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Health-care groups court political favors

If the flow of money is any indication, health care promises to be a lively issue on Capitol Hill next year.

Campaign contributions to congressional candidates by the health 1nd insurance industries have been surging in recent months, as the presidential candidates and leading lawmakers promise to make changes in the health-care system a priority when the 103rd Congress convenes in January.

A study of federal election reports by congressional candidates shows that donations by political action committees and large contributors in the health-care and insurance businesses have grown at twice the rate of all contributions.

The donations, from hospitals, doctors, drug and medical-equipment makers and health insurers, have been going mostly to leading Democrats in the House, which has been more actively considering health-care legislation.

Leaders in the House and Senate predict Congress will take up health care next year regardless of the outcome of the presidential election. Proposals by both President Bush and Gov. Bill Clinton carry enormous financial ramifications for the health-care industry.

Bush has proposed new tax credits for poor people and tax deductions for middle-income people to help them buy private health insurance. Under his proposal, self-employed people would be permitted to deduct 100 percent of the cost of their health-insurance premiums, up from the current rate of 25 percent.

Clinton has proposed a new governmental body composed of consumers and health-care providers to establish national limits on health-care spending. He also has recommended that the government guarantee insurance coverage for people who are not working and tax credits to small employers to help offset the cost of health insurance.

The study made public Monday of congressional contributions runs through June 30, the latest publicly available information. It was compiled by Citizen Action, a national consumer organization that supports a measure like the Canadian health system, which provides universal access to care.

The corporate and trade interests have staked out an array of conflicting positions. The drug companies are against any measure that would regulate their prices. The insurers are generally opposed to rules that would make it illegal to withhold insurance from sick or poor people and to legislation that would set federal standards for private health insurance, including regulation of coverage and rates.

The American Medical Association has sought mandatory coverage of all workers by employers.

All of the business groups remain adamantly opposed to any effort to have government provide medical care for everyone, as is done under Britain's system of socialized medicine.

Health-care contributions to congressional candidates have increased from $18.6-million in the 1990 election to $22.4-million this time, an increase of about 20 percent. During the same period, political committees in all areas have increased contributions by 10 percent, to $112.1-million.

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