NRF GIVES COLD SHOULDER TO MITCHELL HEALTH PLAN

Byline: JOYCE BARRETT

WASHINGTON--A reform package unveiled Tuesday by Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D., Maine) would lessen the burden on employers of ensuring that most Americans have health care, but it still did not go far enough to win retail support.
Retailers have consistently opposed any requirement that employers pay a portion of their workers' health care premiums and instead are advocating market reform to lower health care costs and expand coverage.
Mitchell's plan would not require employers contribute immediately, but it states that if a National Health Care Cost and Coverage Commission determines after Jan. 1, 2000, that 95 percent of all Americans don't have health protection, businesses with 25 or more workers would be required to share half the cost of insurance premiums with their employees. For workers in firms with fewer than 25 workers, employees would be required to buy coverage.
Subsidies would be available to make insurance more affordable.
A plan detailed last week by House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt (D., Mo.) would require employers to pay 80 percent of workers' health premiums. Gephardt's plan also is opposed by retailers and business groups.
Steve Pfister, vice president and director of political affairs for the National Retail Federation, rejected Mit-chell's proposal, stating, "A mandate down the road is still a mandate."
The industry also is skeptical of Mitchell's plan to subsidize the health care costs of low-wage workers as well as some firms on the grounds that the bill doesn't provide enough money for that, Pfister said.
"It's impossible," he said. "Where will they find the money?"
Mitchell said he plans to open Senate debate on his bill on Aug. 9. The House also is expected to begin debate next week, and leaders in both chambers are hopeful they can vote on health care plans before Congress adjourns for its August recess.
The International Mass Retail Association did not return phone calls for comment on the Mitchell health care plan.
--Fairchild News Service

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