AL GORE: Pledges Universal Health Insurance for Children
On his trek to the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, Vice President Al Gore stopped in Cleveland Sunday, campaigning for universal health insurance for children, "one of his highest priorities," the Los Angeles Times reports. At a meeting in the Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital, Gore vowed to meet that goal by 2005 if elected. "The top priority must be to make a national commitment to give high quality health care to every single child in America within these next four years," Gore said, adding, "That's one of my goals, a part of my mission." His plan relies heavily on expanding the Children's Health Insurance Program by removing bureaucratic and eligibility obstacles that discourage parents from enrolling children. In addition, Gore pledged to offer financial incentives to states that boost CHIP enrollment. "We have gone part of the way to where we need to be. But there are still 11 million children who don't have [insurance], and they need it," Gore concluded. To expand coverage, Gore also would extend CHIP eligibility to children in families with incomes up to 250% of the poverty level, about $41,000 for a family of four (Chen, 8/14).
To help spread his health care message in Cleveland, Gore recruited actor and producer Rob Reiner, famous for his role as Mike "Meathead" Stivic on TV's "All in the Family," the Washington Post reports. Reiner, who has spearheaded children's health initiatives in California, almost "stole the show," accusing Gore's rival, Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R), of "hypocrisy of staggering proportions." The "theater-in-the-round-style" discussion on children's health care paves the way for a series of policy announcements heading into the vice president's acceptance speech at the convention. "We're going to concentrate on substance instead of the balloons and confetti. I'm going to take the risk of going into specifics," Gore said (Connolly, 8/14). Republicans, however, charged that the children's health insurance issue marks another "squandered opportunity" for the Clinton-Gore administration, arguing that it has "done nothing" to address concerns about federal regulations and bureaucratic red tape. "The bottom line is Al Gore has done nothing to address the concerns of our nation's governors and has offered no proposal to reform ... CHIP," Bob Hopkins, a spokesperson for the Bush campaign, said (Candisky, Columbus Dispatch, 8/14).
Tarnished Lone Star?
Gore also used his address at the children's hospital to sharpen his differences on health care with Bush, although Reiner handled the "Bush-bashing chores" (Washington Post, 8/14). "There are millions of children today who are eligible for health care coverage under the current [CHIP], but they're not getting it because the barriers are so hard to get over," Gore said. "In places like Texas? Just curious," Reiner interrupted, asking again, "Is one of those places that makes those barriers very hard Texas? I'm just curious." The Gore campaign pointed out that Texas ranks first among states for uninsured residents and second for uninsured women and children (Hillman, Dallas Morning News, 8/14). According to Gore adviser Irwin Redlener, Texas may lose $450 million in federal funding this year because of its low CHIP participation rate. Bush spokesperson Dan Bartlett countered, however, that Texas "got off to a slow start" because its state law was not passed until 1999, two years after the establishment of CHIP. During the Clinton-Gore years, he added, the number of uninsured has ballooned by 8 million, including 2.4 million children. Bartlett also chided Gore for his attacks on the Texas governor. "Literally 72 hours into their pledge to elevate the tone of this campaign, they are already in the gutter," he said (Washington Post, 8/14).
Health Care Barrage
Gore's Cleveland address offers a prelude to what is expected to be a health care-laden convention in Los Angeles. The Democratic National Convention "will feature more talk about health care than is heard at most hospitals ... Caregivers will be saluted, mental health care celebrated, patients' rights saluted and prescription drug costs excoriated," the Wall Street Journal reports. The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that voters favor Gore over Bush on the lone issue of health care, an advantage Gore hopes to use during the campaign. Experts say the strategy has risks, because health care has often proven a "mind-numbingly complex" subject for voters. "We need to find the wedge issues, the issues that voters understand," Gore adviser Roy Neel said, pointing to prescription drug coverage as a likely target. Both Gore and Bush have proposed a Medicare drug benefit package, but details of Bush's plan remain sketchy. By touting health care, Gore campaign officials hope to force Bush to spell out specifics. "Either Bush emerges and steps into the quicksand of Medicare, or he doesn't, which says he doesn't understand the issues," Gore spokesperson Mark Fabiani said. In addition, the vice president can attack Bush on another "vulnerability," his health care record in Texas (McGinley/Davis, 8/14).