Hillary Rodham Clinton said in strong terms Friday the White House won't let people get away with not having health insurance any more. But she promised Democratic governors flexibility to design their states' own rules.
"We're going to tell individuals who think they can get by without coverage because they're 25 and believe they're immortal . . . that when they end up in the emergency room and stick us with the bill, that we're not going to let that go on anymore," the first lady told the Democratic Governors Association.
"There can't be any more free lunch," Mrs. Clinton said. "It is an absolutely critical part of this plan that people become responsible. It is at the root of what it means to be an American, and we're going to start insisting upon it."
Earlier, other aides to President Clinton, who will need the governors' help to sell health care, said the administration is bracing for a battle in Congress over health care that could take nine months once Clinton introduces the plan, probably in late July or early September.
Mrs. Clinton sought to assure the 10 governors gathered here for an issues conference that they would have leeway to tailor health care plans to their states.
The federal government will set up a basic package of benefits available to all Americans, standards for cost controls and insurance rules, she said.
After that, it will be up to states to develop their own plans for implementing the guidelines, Mrs. Clinton said, urging a federal-state partnership to solve the crisis. States have enacted innovative ways to cover more people and rein in costs, Mrs. Clinton said, and the federal government wants that to continue.
The speech was comprehensive and hard-hitting, the governors said.
"The ideas I'd heard before _ but what was new was the way it was packaged," said Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado. "It really got to the heart and soul of what's important to people out there _ security, quality, choice."