Clinton & Dole duke it out over MSAs

In our January 1996 issue, MoJo sheds light on Newt Gingrich’s plans to destroy Medicare by helping a big contributor with his medical savings account scheme. Find out why medical savings accounts might not be the best plan for consumers after all.


When two men disagree it usually doesn’t make the front page of the New York Times. But reporters have been dying for Bill Clinton and presumptive GOP nominee Bob Dole to pick their first fight. So when the sitting prez and Senate leader started baring their teeth over medical savings accounts, it made for big news.

Last week, the Senate passed a popular bill allowing job-changers to retain their employer-sponsored health benefits without fear of being denied coverage because of “pre-existing” conditions. Although Dole fought to make MSAs a part of the bill, the Senate voted against him.

The House version of the bill, however, does include MSAs, thanks to Newt Gingrich. Now the conference committee, where differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill are hammered out, becomes the battleground. Dole is trying to stack the committee with pro-MSA conferees; Clinton threatens to veto the bill if it includes MSAs.

Supporters call MSAs a “free-market solution to rising health care costs.” Critics say MSAs could help destroy Medicare. The MoJo Wire reveals that the GOP’s devotion to MSAs looks like a massive payback to a top contributor. Read the story behind the headlines: Medikill, which first appeared in the January/February 1996 issue of Mother Jones.

The Battle Ahead

As it stands, the conferees from the Senate will probably fight the House to keep MSAs out of the bill. The ranking member of the Senate Labor committee, Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kansas), drafted the Senate version without MSA provisions. John H. Chafee (R-RI), another moderate Republican, would be a ranking member from the Finance committee. They would potentially team up with Democrats to fight against MSAs. So Dole plans to take only two Republicans from Finance, passing over Chafee, and instead include two pro-MSA Republicans from the Judiciary committee.


The Committees:

Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources: Has clear jurisdiction over the bill. Kassebaum and Kennedy are the ranking members.

Senate Committee on Finance: Must be involved because Dole added provisions for tax breaks in the bill.

Senate Committee on the Judiciary: Dole wants to add Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Strom Thurmond (R-SC) (both pro-MSA), from this committee. Democrats raise doubts about whether this committee has jurisdiction.