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WASHINGTON-President Clinton wants Congress to pass legislation banning so-called "gag rules" in managed care plans.

Meanwhile, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., plan to unveil this week legislation designed to regulate managed care plans. Spokesmen for both lawmakers said details of the legislation would not be available until then.

The president urged Congress to pass the law as he announced he had ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to send letters to state Medicaid directors warning them it was illegal for Medicaid HMOs to invoke gag rules, which forbid HMO physicians from telling patients about treatments the plan does not cover.

President Clinton endorsed H.R. 586, sponsored by Reps. Greg Ganske, R-Iowa, and Edward Markey, D-Mass., which would prohibit any managed care plan from imposing a gag rule.

Rep. Ganske, himself a physician, sponsored similar legislation last year. The bill won the approval of the House Commerce Committee, but it never came to a vote by the full House.

Although the details of the Kennedy-Dingell measure are not known, it is not the first time lawmakers have attempted to impose federal regulation on managed care plans. For example, Congress passed legislation curbing some managed care practices, such as "drive through" maternity stays last year, by requiring plans to pay for at least 48 hours of hospital care following a normal birth and 96 hours following Caesarean section births. Legislation mandating that insurers cover inpatient care for mastectomies also has been introduced.