Mayoral candidate Chaka Fattah wants Philadelphia doctors and other medical professionals to provide free yearly checkups for every uninsured Philadelphian. He also wants city workers, union and nonunion, to get health coverage from the same insurance provider.

He even wants to recast himself as Philly's own Richard Simmons, leading residents in morning stretches.

"We can't do the things I want to do" - generate new jobs and expand education programs - "unless our citizens are healthy," Fattah said yesterday at St. Christopher's Hospital, where he unveiled a wide-ranging assortment of health-care proposals, the third in a series of policy initiatives released by his campaign. "I'm here to say that health care is going to be a priority of a Fattah administration."

This makes him the first among five Democratic mayoral rivals to address health care in detail as the campaign for the May 15 primary heats up.

Health insurance costs here, as in other cities, have been skyrocketing. The the cost of insuring city employees is projected to grow by $147 million in the next five years.

"This is one of the key financial issues that is facing the city, and the next mayor is going to have to tackle it, and tackle it fairly quickly," said Rob Dubow, executive director of the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, the city's fiscal overseer.

Fattah proposes lowering costs by using competitive bidding to select a single health insurer to cover the city's 23,000 municipal employees, and possibly enlarge the pool to include Philadelphia School District workers and others.

Most city employees are now insured by various providers who have contracts with the city's four municipal unions. Right now, the health-care cost per employee is $12,623.

"Every mayor wants to consolidate stuff to control costs," said Bob Wolper, a longtime consultant for AFSCME District Council 33, which represents the city's blue-collar workers. Doing so would hardly be easy, he said.

"The tradition for public-sector workers over the years has been to get a good benefits package in lieu of [higher] wages," he said, "and so people will be leery about tearing it apart and starting from scratch."

District Council 47 president Tom Cronin, whose members are mostly white-collar municipal workers, declined comment for now on Fattah's plan, except to call it "a serious proposal."

While the use of a single provider could lower expenses, other parts of Fattah's plan would cost money, such as renovating the city's district health centers and expanding their hours into the evenings and weekends.

The plan included no item-by-item cost analysis, but Fattah said the entire initiative would cost $27 million to $36 million a year.

Some of the proposals would cost nothing. For instance, he envisions an all-volunteer network of medical professionals to give free annual checkups to the city's 140,000 uninsured residents.

This idea drew a cautious welcome from the head of a doctors' group. "I think if it were organized, and if it were distributed fairly, physicians might be willing and able to provide services in kind as it were," George M. Wohlreich, director and chief executive officer of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, said last night.

Other ideas on Fattah's list have been under way in the Street administration, such as removing lead paint from buildings citywide. And one proposal reads as if written by Street, a fitness buff: If elected, "Fattah will begin each of his quarterly visits to the 10 Councilmanic districts with an exercise event, during which he will lead people from the neighborhood in a morning exercise activity."

Fattah on health

"We can't do the things

I want to do unless our citizens are healthy,"

Rep. Chaka Fattah said as he outlined his plans for improving residents' health care should he be elected mayor. B4.

Contact staff writer Marcia Gelbart at 215-854-2338 or