Throwback to 1993? What's New About Democrats' Health Care Plans

A look at how today's proposals differ from Clinton's unsuccessful plan.

ByABC News
September 25, 2009, 4:17 PM

Sept. 28, 2009— -- The image of lawmakers squaring off with each other and the White House on health care reform is not a new phenomenon. The country saw the same drama, with different actors, play out in 1993, when President Bill Clinton proposed a massive overhaul of the health care industry.

President Obama's rhetoric and methods closely match those used by Clinton -- both pitched their plans in a speech before a joint session of Congress and both suffered from the lack of public support. In fact, polling numbers are surprisingly similar for the two. In Sept. 1993, 31 percent of Americans thought Clinton's plan would worsen their own health care situation. In the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, 33 percent said "Obama Care" and the Democrats' plan would dent the quality of their plans -- an eerie throwback to 1993.

The new administration has also learned some lessons from past mistakes and is hoping the course they will chart on health care will be different. Meanwhile, a number of health care reform bills are circulating on Capitol Hill -- the Senate Finance Committee bill drafted by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee's bill, the House Democrats bill, along with drafts proposed by various Republican lawmakers.

But what's new about the current proposals from the policies that failed so miserably in 1993?

One significant difference, experts say, is that the Democrats' plan builds on expanding the current system, rather than completely revamping it.

"The big difference with the Clinton plan is that it was much more regulatory than Obama's plan," said Judith Feder, a professor at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, and a Clinton-era official at the Health and Human Services. "When I see -- in terms of the design that's coming forward -- it [Obama's plan] is much more retention-building on the system that currently exists."

Here's a look at the similarities and differences between what's on the table today and what was suggested 16 years ago:

The idea of universal coverage was the focal point of the Clinton plan. It made insurance mandatory for all Americans -- a platform presidential candidate Hillary Clinton ran on in 2008. Employers would pay 80 percent of the cost of health insurance premiums, with the employee covering the remaining costs.

Although the various Democratic bills today differ in language, all three of them require Americans to have some sort of health care coverage. As in the Clinton plan, the government would provide subsidies to individuals and small businesses who cannot afford it.

Republicans, in their drafts, have not made health insurance a mandate. Meanwhile, the president's views on this issue have been slightly blurred. He has repeatedly said all Americans must be covered, but has fallen short of actually mandating insurance. In his presidential campaign, Obama opposed an individual mandate and clashed repeatedly with Clinton. However, then-candidate Obama said he would require that all children have coverage.