AL GORE: Promises ‘Rock-Solid’ Support for Medicare
While campaigning in St. Petersburg, Fla., today, Vice President Al Gore plans to unveil a 74-page book that outlines his "rock-solid commitment to Medicare," and warns that rival Texas Gov. George W. Bush's (R) plan would "force many seniors to go to welfare offices," the Associated Press reports. The report, "Medicare at the Crossroads," includes the vice president's previously announced Medicare reforms and new provisions for stabilizing Medicare HMOs (Sobieraj, 9/25). "To me it all comes down to this. Will we have a president who's willing to make Medicare a top priority? Will we have a president who gives seniors more choice and more power -- and not the HMOs?" Gore asked during a conference call with reporters ( Knight Ridder News Service/Nashville Tennessean, 9/25). Under his proposal, Gore would double the minimum time requirement for HMOs contracting with Medicare to two years, as well as double the penalty for HMOs that drop patients by "barring them from rejoining Medicare for two years." He would also allow the HHS secretary to banish permanently HMOs that "cherry pick" healthy beneficiaries (Associated Press, 9/25).
During Sunday's call with reporters, Gore also renewed his assault on Bush, citing "significant differences" in the candidates' Medicare reforms. "The other side treats the Medicare surplus as a piggy bank they can use for a tax cut that primarily benefits the wealthiest Americans," Gore said, adding, "[T]hey would force many seniors to go to welfare offices to sign up for state programs, and middle-class seniors would be left out completely." Bush aides called Gore's charges "pure fantasy" and a "classic scare tactic." According to Bush spokesperson Ari Fleischer, "Al Gore spent last week making things up and today he's continued," noting that Bush's plan would expand an existing program in 23 states that would allow patients to "return forms by mail" (Sack, New York Times, 9/25).
Nothing But Health Care
Meanwhile, in the battleground states of Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, health care has dominated as the top issue of the presidential campaign, according recent polls. According to a national Pew Research Center survey, nearly two-thirds of voters reported concerns about affordable health care, up from 58% last year. In addition, another recent poll found that nearly one-third of voters in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania cited "making quality health care accessible to everyone" as their top issue in the campaign. "There's almost never a political cycle when some health care issue doesn't become a really big deal," GOP pollster Bill McInturff said. The recent interest in health care "could be good news for ... Gore" and Democrats, who have "an upper hand in the polls" on this issue, the AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. This year, Gore and Bush have spent millions of dollars on television ads that "promote -- and distort" the health care debate, which analysts argue has "helped make health care the No. 1 issue" (Fournier, 9/25).