AL GORE: Calls for Rx Drug Coverage, Patients’ Rights in Nomination Speech
Accepting the presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention last night, Vice President Al Gore addressed a number of health care issues, pledging to build a "better, fairer, more prosperous America." In a policy-laden speech, Gore proposed several health care initiatives, including a Medicare prescription drug benefit, a Medicare "lock box" and a patients' bill of rights. He also pointed to specific individuals in the audience who illustrated some of the health care problems he proposes to fix. Buttressing his argument for a patients' bill of rights, Gore said: "I will never forget a little boy named Ian Malone, who suffered from a medical mistake during childbirth and needs full-time nursing care. ... [His parents'] HMO had told the Malones it would no longer pay for the nurse they needed, and then, told them they should consider giving Ian up for adoption. That's when his mom and dad got really mad." Gore added that the family only got the care they need because they sought out publicity and "embarrassed" the HMO. "No family should have to go on national television to save their child's life. Dylan and Christine Malone are here with us tonight ... And I say to them, and to all the families of America: I will fight for a real, enforceable patients' bill of rights." He continued, "It's just wrong to have life and death medical decisions made by bean counters at HMOs who don't have ... a right to play God. It's time to take the medical decisions away from the HMOs and insurance companies -- and give them back to the ... health care professionals."
Rx 'n' Cheese
Taking on the issue of a Medicare prescription drug benefit, Gore talked about Jaqueline Johnson of St. Louis. "She worked for 35 years as a medical assistant, caring for others. Now she's 72 years old and needs prescription medicines to care for herself. She spends over half of her Social Security check -- her only source of income -- on her pills. So she either skips meals, or shops for bargains at a wholesale food store and buys macaroni and cheese dinners in bulk -- and then has them at every meal," Gore said. Pointing to Johnson in the audience, Gore said, "I promise you once again: I will fight for a prescription drug benefit for all seniors under Medicare. It's just wrong for seniors to have to choose between food and medicine while the big drug companies run up record profits."
Gore also blasted rival Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) for his lack of support for a prescription drug benefit under Medicare, calling him a pawn of the health care industry. "[L]et me tell you: I will fight for it, and the other side will not. They give in to the big drug companies. Their plan tells seniors to beg the HMOs and insurance companies for prescription drug coverage ... They're for the powerful, and we're for the people," he said. He also emphasized his commitment to keep abortion legal, "Let there be no doubt: I will protect and defend a woman's right to choose. The last thing this country needs is a Supreme Court that overturns Roe v. Wade."
Gore's also vowed to move toward universal health coverage, "so patients and ordinary people are not left powerless and broke," and promised to insure all children by 2004. In addition, he pledged to double federal funding for medical research, crack down on tobacco marketing to children and end the stigma of mental illness -- a cause championed by his wife Tipper (Gore speech text, ABC News, 8/17). According to Gore aides, the vice president targeted issues that the public believes Democrats can handle better than Republicans, hoping to fight the campaign "on that terrain" (Berke, New York Times, 8/18). He also tried to paint Bush as "bad on the issues," while offering specific policy aims (Drehle, Washington Post, 8/18). To view a video of Gore's speech, go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/mmedia/politics/081700- 2v.htm. Note: You must have RealPlayer G2 to view the address.
According to an Associated Press analysis, however, some of Gore's "factual claims" in last night's address failed to give voters a "complete picture" of his campaign promises and those of his opponent. For example, while Gore vowed to "end the influence of big money" -- such as insurance and pharmaceutical companies -- in the prescription drug benefit debate, he did not mention that running mate Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) remains among Congress' "biggest recipients" from insurers and drugmakers. (Meckler, AP/ABC News, 8/18).