Will Obama's Health Care Push Be More Successful Than Clinton's?

It's not an anniversary that officials of the Obama White House particularly care to invoke, but 16 years ago this month then-President Bill Clinton addressed a joint session of Congress to make his health-care reform pitch.

As President Obama prepares to do the same thing today in a nationally televised speech in prime time, there is a consensus that health care costs are unsustainable and must be changed, but plenty of disagreements about how to fix the system.

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Clinton may have been unsuccessful in his bid for health-care reform, but many of his dire predictions about what would happen without that reform have come true.

In his 1993 address, Clinton put Florida small business owner Kerry Kennedy front and center in the debate over what rising health-care costs were doing to small business owners across the nation.

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"[Kennedy has] poured his heart and soul, his sweat and blood into that business for years," the then-president said. "But over the last several years, again like most small business owners, he's seen his health care premiums skyrocket, even in years when no claims were made."

Clinton said that in 1992, Kennedy "painfully discovered he could no longer afford to provide coverage for all his workers because his insurance company told him that two of his workers had become high risks because of their advanced age. The problem was that those two people were his mother and father, the people who founded the business and still worked in the store."

Watch President Obama's address to Congress and the GOP response on ABC News Sept. 9 at 8 p.m. ET.

Kennedy's "story speaks for millions of others, and from them we have learned a powerful truth: We have to preserve and strengthen what is right with the health care system, but we have got to fix what is wrong with it," Clinton said.

Obama Over-learned Lessons of Clinton's?

Much has changed in Kerry Kennedy's life since then. He has sold the furniture business and become a financial planner. His parents have retired.

The one constant: health care costs keep rising.

Today none of Kennedy's seven employees have insurance, though they have coverage through other means.

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"The cost is so much more substantial" today, Kennedy told ABC News. The small business owner said that if he had to provide health care to his employees something would have to give -- he would not be able to provide them what he already does, like salaries and a retirement plan, and might be forced to let some workers go.

Many observers today say Obama over-learned the lessons of Clinton's failed effort by ceding too much authority to Congress, unlike Bill and Hillary Clinton, who were criticized for dictating to Capitol Hill what should be in the bill. But beyond the politics and strategy, what may matter more to the American people is the fact that the problems are the same as 16 years ago -- only worse.

The country's annual health care costs have risen much more than the rate of inflation, from $912 billion a year in 1993 to a projected $2.5 trillion this year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

In 1993, the United States spent over a third more of its income on health care than any other nation on earth, Clinton said.

Now, Obama told the annual conference of the American Medical Association on June 15, 2009: "We spend almost 50 percent more per person on health care than the next most expensive nation -- 50 percent more."

In 1993, the Health Insurance Association of America estimated the cost of family insurance coverage under an average group insurance plan was $5,232.

Today that figure is $12,680, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Predictions Clinton made about the impact of these rising costs have largely come true.

"Small businesses will continue to face skyrocketing premiums," Clinton said in 1993. "And a full third of small businesses now covering their employees say they will be forced to drop their insurance."

Clinton Says He Bit Off More Than He Could Chew in 1993

Obama, 16 years later, said that is exactly what has happened.

"Across the country, over one-third of small businesses have reduced benefits in recent years and one-third have dropped their workers' coverage altogether since the early '90s," he said.

The ranks of the uninsured has surged from an estimated 37 million Americans without insurance on any given day to nearly 46 million now.

This week the White House brushed off comparisons to the Clinton speech to Congress in 1993.

"That was the beginning of a health care process rather than what we see as, quite frankly, close to the end," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. "I think that's probably the biggest and primary difference in those two speeches. My guess is that both leaders saw it as a venue and an opportunity to engage a big number of the American people in a topic that they thought was important."

Clinton said in 1995 that his administration "bit off more than we could chew" in the health care reform fight.

Though in a new interview with Esquire magazine, the former president challenged the notion that "we forced a bill on Congress." Clinton said the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., "demanded that Hillary send him a bill -- a complete bill. ... We did what Congress asked us to do."

The lesson from that health care reform effort for the former president and for Kerry Kennedy was that half a loaf may be better than none. Last month Clinton told liberal activists and bloggers at the Netroots convention that "try to keep this thing in the lane of getting something done. We need to pass a bill and move this thing forward."

Kennedy said he supports reform but "the changes have to be baby steps. They have to be agreeable steps, agreeable steps that both parties can agree upon."