DES MOINES, Iowa - Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton asked yesterday for a second chance at getting health care right, insisting that this time she would be able to get Congress and the country to provide health insurance to the nation's uninsured.
"It's long past time that Americans and the richest of all countries realize that health care is a right and not a privilege," Clinton told a union meeting in Chicago yesterday. Later, she spoke on the same topic in Des Moines.
The New York senator and Democratic presidential candidate said she would mandate that all Americans buy health insurance - much as states require all drivers to have licenses.
She would let the uninsured buy into two existing government insurance programs or buy private insurance, offer them financial help in paying premiums, and help small businesses cover their employees.
She would pay the $110 billion-a-year cost of the plan by raising taxes on those making more than $250,000 and by taxing companies that did not insure their employees.
"If you're one of tens of millions of Americans without coverage or if you don't like the coverage you have, you will have a choice of plans to pick from and you'll get tax credits to help pay for it. If you like the plan you have, you can keep it," she said.
The plan by Clinton, whose effort to enact universal health care during her husband's presidency failed in 1994, is similar to proposals by two rivals for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina also would mandate that every American buy insurance.
Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois would mandate coverage for children while offering expanded government help to uninsured adults. He would require employers not providing insurance to help pay for national insurance.
Both Edwards and Obama would create a government health insurance plan to compete with private insurance companies, and expand Medicaid for the poor and SCHIP for children. Both would raise taxes.
None of the Republican presidential candidates would mandate coverage, and all have flatly ruled out raising taxes to pay for expanded care.
"Hillary-care continues to be bad medicine," former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said in a cutting reference to the label given to her 1993-94 proposal.
Romney himself mandated that everyone in his state buy health insurance - the only one of the major-party candidates who has enacted anything close to universal health care. But he has dropped the mandate from his national proposal, saying he would leave that up to individual states.
Universal health care has been a Democratic Party dream since President Harry S. Truman first proposed it 60 years ago.
Clinton herself had the best chance to enact a program after her husband won the White House, when a Democratic-controlled Congress was eager to adopt a comprehensive plan.
But Clinton's complicated proposal, devised in secret, invited ridicule and was savaged in a TV ad campaign launched by the insurance industry. Congress never even voted on the proposal.
She called her new plan "simpler" than her old one, stressing that it still would give Americans the choice of private insurance and their own doctors.
"This is not government-run," she said. "There will be no new bureaucracies. You can keep the doctors you know and trust."
Democrats trust her more than any rival on the issue, polls show. A Gallup poll last month found that 65 percent of Americans trusted her to do the right thing on health care - followed by Obama, Edwards and Republican Rudy Giuliani.