WASHINGTON – Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that immigrants living in the U.S. illegally would not be covered by her proposed universal health care plan.
The New York senator said she supports basic health services for illegal immigrants, including hospitalization and treatment of acute conditions. But she said the magnitude of the nation's health care challenge means her universal coverage proposal would not cover the 12 million people living in the country illegally.
"People who are here legally deserve some better treatment and acceptance in the law than people who are not here legally," she said. "These are hard choices."
As for ways to reduce pressure on the overburdened health care system, she said she could envision using "carrots and maybe a few sticks" to motivate people to lose weight and make other behavioral changes that could help.
Speaking at a forum sponsored by several health care organizations, Clinton addressed a range of questions on the future of Social Security and Medicare, racial and gender disparities in health care coverage and ways to encourage medical students to become primary care doctors rather than specialists.
Most of all, there were questions about her proposed $110 billion health care plan and how it would bring order to a fractured system.
She didn't directly address questions of whether smokers or obese people should pay more for health care but said as president she would use the "bully pulpit" to encourage healthy lifestyle choices, particularly among young people.
Clinton, who has publicly fretted about her weight, drew laughs as she recalled competing for presidential physical fitness awards as a child.
"We were rounded up and taken to the gym where we had to jump and run. I was horrible at it. They kept telling me to run and I'd say, 'I'm running,'" she said. "It was a very strong message to children that the president cares about your health care. I personally believed Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy were sitting in the White House signing my certificate."
The former first lady also spoke about her failure to enact universal coverage during her husband's presidency, assuring audience members that she would not repeat the mistakes that doomed that effort.
Among other things, she said it had been a mistake to try to draft the plan out of the White House, and that as president she had no intention of producing the specific legislation for Congress to consider.
"I'm setting goals for the country. But I know how important it is to work out the details in consultation with the Congress," she said.
Clinton scoffed at suggestions from Republican presidential rivals that her plan is little more than socialized medicine, calling them "old, tired accusations."
The Republican National Committee said her "government-run health care plan" would be paid for through higher taxes on hardworking people.
"Senator Clinton encourages people to lead healthy lifestyles, which will occur as they run from her plan to socialize medicine, just as they did in 1993," RNC spokesman Danny Diaz said.
Clinton acknowledged the need to bring a broad spectrum of interests together in order to enact her proposed plan
"I think we'll have a very strong coalition that will be able to make the case to Congress," she said. "Nobody will come out of this process with 100 percent of what he or she wants."
Clinton also said the task would be made easier if more Democrats were elected to the Senate in 2008.
"It's one of my highest priorities," she said.