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Byline: CAROL EMERT
WASHINGTON -- The International Mass Retail Association has endorsed, with some reservations, a health care bill introduced last week by Sen. Robert Dole (R., Kan.) that is supported by 40 senators.
"We have called on members of Congress to build upon the strengths of the American health care system and institute necessary reforms in order to achieve universal access to quality care while controlling the spiralling costs," said IMRA president Robert J. Verdisco. "We believe Senator Dole's plan is a major step in this direction."
IMRA supports the Dole plan because it does not contain mandatory health alliances, price controls, tax increases, a requirement for universal coverage or mandates for employers or individuals to purchase health care services.
IMRA is not completely satisfied with the bill, however. Although it is likely to be less expensive than Democrat-sponsored alternatives, cost is still a concern.
"Without concrete numbers on the cost of this plan, we are not prepared at this time to fully endorse the proposal," said Cecelia Adams, IMRA director of tax, budget and health care issues.
IMRA also wants the bill modified to allow people with healthy lifestyles to pay lower premiums than people with bad habits, such as smoking and not exercising, Adams said.
Provisions of the Dole plan that IMRA favors include insurance reforms, subsidies for low-income families, tax-deferred medical savings accounts, bureaucratic streamlining and full tax deductions of health care payments for the self-employed. Currently self-employed people may deduct only 25 percent of their health care costs while corporations may deduct 100 percent, Adams said.
The Dole plan is one of several bills to be combined into a final package that Congress will vote on this year. In the House, Adams said, IMRA supports most provisions of the Rowland-Bilirakis bill, is similar to Dole's.
The National Retail Federation has endorsed the Rowland-Bilirakis legislation, which has 70 co-sponsors, half Democratic . The NRF also gave a nod of approval to the Dole bill, with Tracy Mullin, NRF president, appearing at the press conference last week, at which Dole announced his plan.
"I don't think these bills should be a starting point for negotiations, they should be an endpoint," Adams said. "If you use them as a starting point, you're only going to move to the left, and we don't want that to happen."