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Health Insurance Too Costly For Some

Armed with a study showing 5 million older Americans either lack health insurance or pay dearly for it, President Clinton is unveiling a plan to allow them to buy coverage from the federal program for the elderly.

The president is joining congressional Democrats today in proposing legislation that would extend Medicare eligibility to people aged 55 through 64 who are uninsured, covered by an expensive individual plan or locked out of coverage because of a pre-existing medical condition.

The plan is estimated to provide coverage to 300,000-400,000 people.

The proposal has met resistance from Republicans in Congress who are concerned that it could push the Medicare Trust Fund toward insolvency. The White House denies that, arguing that its financing is completely separate from the trust fund.

Under the legislation, Americans age 62, 63 or 64 would be allowed to buy into Medicare by paying a premium. People over 55 who are displaced from their jobs would be eligible for coverage under a similar buy-in option, and retirees age 55 and older would be able to buy into their former employers' health plan.

They could pay Medicare premiums in two parts: an up-front base premium and another after they turn 65. In essence, Medicare would lend them coverage until they turn 65, after which they would make a small payment as an add-on to their regular Medicare Part B premium.

The president unveiled his legislation as the White House released a new state-by-state analysis that found 3 million people age 55 through 64 are uninsured. They typically are wives of men who become eligible for Medicare, or people who lose coverage through plant closings or corporate downsizing. Those who buy individual coverage, the study found, sometimes pay as much as $1,000 a month in premiums.

The White House says Clinton wants Congress to act on the plan this year, arguing that it is unacceptable to make thousands of older Americans go without health insurance.

The analysis, prepared by the Domestic Policy Council and the National Economic Council, found that 5 million people aged 55 through 64 are uninsured or paying for expensive individual policies. They represent 22 percent of all Americans in that age group.

The problem is especially acute in North Dakota, Texas and Nebraska, the study said. In North Dakota, 37 percent of those approaching retirement age either lack coverage or pay for expensive individual coverage. In Texas, the figure is 31 percent and in Nebraska, 33 percent.

By SONYA ROSS, Associated Press Writer. ©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed