Analysis: What's the truth about 'HillaryCare 2.0?'

Whenever she mentions her proposal for providing universal access to health care at presidential campaign events, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is certain to get widespread applause from the audience.

Clinton tells them her American Health Choices Plan allows people who are happy with their coverage to "keep it, no questions asked" while offering the nation's 47 million uninsured and those dissatisfied with the coverage the choice to join the congressional health plan.

"My theory is, if it's good enough for Congress it's good enough for America, and we are going to make it happen," she told an audience in Humboldt on the final stop of a four-day swing through Iowa.

But Democratic voters attending several of Clinton's events in Iowa this week said they didn't know much about the details.

And because of that lack of familiarity, Republicans have been able to characterize Clinton's plan as socialized medicine without much protest from Democrats.

Conservatives have dubbed Clinton's proposal as "HillaryCare 2.0," recalling her complicated proposal for universal coverage that failed to gain congressional approval in 1993-94 when she was first lady.

At a forum for Republican presidential candidates Wednesday in Detroit, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani sparred on some issues, but they were united on Clinton's health care plan.

"If we do HillaryCare or socialized medicine, Canadians will have no place to go to get their health care," Giuliani quipped, referring to the Canada's single-payer national health system.

"HillaryCare is government gets in and tells people what to do from the federal government's standpoint," Romney said. He said his plan removed "the burden of free-riders" by getting "everybody in the system."

However, health care experts say Romney and Clinton's plans both do the same thing — they put the obligation for obtaining health care on the individual. The difference is that Romney wants the states to handle the details on how to make it happen while Clinton offers a national solution.

And contrary to Giuliani's insinuation of a Canadian-style system, Clinton offers the uninsured the option of using tax credits to help individuals pay for private coverage if they choose not to join federal employees' plan.

Clinton assured an audience Thursday in Canterbury, N.H., "This is not government-run health care. I don't create a single new bureaucracy."

Democratic voters interviewed earlier in the week in Iowa said they didn't believe Republican allegations that Clinton wants socialized medicine.

"It just looks like she is trying to ensure coverage is available to everyone," said attorney Robin Miller of Cedar Rapids. "It doesn't look as if the government is going to provide it to everyone, just make sure you can get it."

For Miller, the issue hits close to home. Her husband, who is disabled, has an Aetna health policy covering both of them that runs out Nov. 15, and her application for coverage with Blue Cross Blue Shield recently was denied.

"I have alternatives to explore still," said Miller, who is not affiliated with a law firm. "The guaranteed issue policies that are out there are very expensive, and there's not a lot of coverage."

The cost of independent coverage is a major issue for retired Navy reservist Rene Hanlon of Anamosa, Iowa.

When her husband, now 58, retires as a Cedar Rapids firefighter at age 60, they will be forced to buy insurance until he is eligible for Medicare five years later.

"If he retired today, to keep his city health plan it would cost him $1,200 a month," Hanlon said. "He'd have to pay almost half his pension."

Janice Carpenter of Iowa City, a retiree from the University of Iowa who is leaning toward supporting Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois for the Democratic nomination, said, "I just think the Republicans and the right wing hate Hillary so much, no matter what she said would be disagreeable to them. ... And that's leftover from her husband's administration. She managed to conjure up some really hard feelings."

Carpenter articulated a fear that she and other Democrats have about Clinton — that she is too polarizing to get a divided Congress to support her.

Indeed, four of Clinton's rivals for the Democratic nomination said in interviews that even if calling Clinton's plan socialized medicine is untrue, they would be better able to sell universal health care to a divided Congress.

"The plans are sort of similar among the Democrats," said Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut. "What's not similar is those of us who have proven ability to actually do something."

Delaware Sen. Joe Biden said there's a lot of bipartisan agreement on some ways to save money through health care modernization, such as implementing electronic record keeping.

"It should be bipartisan," Biden said. "The only thing that will keep that from happening, in my view, is if the person pushing the plan becomes the issue rather than the plan. And that's going to be Hillary's greatest difficulty through no fault of her own."