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Health Care Reform:

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Back to the Future With Hillary and Healthcare

WebMD Health News

Feb. 5, 2001 (Washington) -- She's baaaaaaack! After a spectacularly failed effort to reform the nation's healthcare system in the early 1990s, Hillary Clinton has health in her sights again -- from her new seat in the U.S. Senate.

People seem to love or hate Hillary. A role model to many, she's the first First Lady to win election to the Senate. At the same time, conservatives especially revile her. One web site is devoted to her as a "wicked witch," among a number that pillory her controversial past.

But now Sen. Clinton (D-N.Y.) has a plum spot on the chamber's Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which is responsible for passing health insurance and public health legislation. This week, the committee will review patient privacy regulations.

The Senate is sometimes referred to as the ultimate old boys' club, and newly elected senators aren't usually movers and shakers there.

Clinton has, nevertheless, drawn plenty of news cameras, thus far, to her Senate comings and goings. And she's got a full plate of healthcare proposals.

Her healthcare history is still fresh in many minds. Soon after President Clinton took office, Hillary became pilot of the infamous White House's healthcare reform task force, which crafted -- behind closed doors -- a major overhaul of the nation's health financing and delivery structure.

But not only did Congress fail to pass any health reform measure, a federal court also slapped several hundred thousand dollars in penalties on the Clinton White House for failing to keep the task force's meetings and records public.

Jane Orient, MD, executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, which successfully sued the task force for its lack of openness, tells WebMD, "Her plan would have potentially either outlawed private medicine or made it virtually impossible to obtain it. She would have had the government dictating everything about what care could be offered, who could get it, and how much could be spent on it."

According to Orient, "She's learned more about how to get her way, but she hasn't changed her opinion about her ultimate goal. I would not underestimate her at all."

But the memory of the failed health reforms failed to crush Clinton's ambitions for the Senate. During her rough-and-tumble campaign for the seat, GOP opponents unsuccessfully tried to use that past against her. New York's conservative party ran TV ads that asked, "If you trust Hillary Clinton, maybe you should see your doctor, while you still can."

Was that then, and this now? Joe Karpinski, GOP spokesman for the HELP committee, tells WebMD, "Those are old things. We are sort of like a team at the beginning of the football season. What you did before is statistical. It's out there; it's known. But you are really judged on what you do this year.

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