AL GORE: Pushes Health Care Agenda on Campaign Trail
At campaign stops in Illinois and Iowa Saturday, Vice President Al Gore continued his assault on drug companies and HMOs and vowed to expand health care coverage for all Americans, the New York Times reports. Gore promised to deliver a patients' bill of rights and a Medicare prescription drug benefit if elected president. "If you entrust me to the presidency, we will flat make it happen," Gore announced to a crowd of 3,000, adding, "Some bean counter behind a computer terminal who doesn't have a license to practice medicine ... overrules the doctor because the HMO or the insurance company doesn't want to shell out the money ... What is that all about?" (Sack, 8/21). Gore also attempted to "sharpen the distinctions" between himself and rival George W. Bush (R), claiming that the Texas governor would not "fight drug and insurance companies for better health care." Depicting himself as a "representative of regular people," Gore painted Bush as a "tool of profitable pharmaceutical companies and HMOs" (Enda/Hutcheson, Philadelphia Inquirer, 8/21). Gore's running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), also assailed Bush, blasting his health care record in Texas. He accused Bush of "doing little" to help the 1.4 million uninsured children in the state, adding that Texas ranks next to last among states in health coverage for women. "Gov. Bush likes to say, 'Don't mess with Texas,' but I've got to tell you ... when it comes to health care, it's a mess in Texas," Lieberman chided (Greenberg, AP/Nando Times, 8/21). Bush aides responded to the attacks, criticizing the Gore campaign for "distorting the governor's health care record." They noted that a bill Bush signed in 1999 will likely boost enrollment in the state's Children's Health Insurance Program by 423,000 in 2001. "The further Al Gore floats down the Mississippi, the more he drifts away from the facts on Bush's record on health care in Texas," Bush spokesperson Dan Bartlett said (Sack, New York Times, 8/21).
Breakfast of Spin Doctors
On the Sunday morning airwaves, Gore and Bush aides continued the battle of words over health care. On ABC, Bush spokesperson Karen Hughes attacked the Clinton-Gore administration and praised Bush's record in Texas. "For seven years, they've failed to get a patients' bill of rights. And while [Gore] wants to talk about fighting ... Gov. Bush signed the strongest patient protection laws in the country right here in Texas," she said (Philadelphia Inquirer, 8/21). Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also blasted Gore, criticizing his prescription drug benefit proposal on "FOX News Sunday." He chided, "Their plan would (even) provide prescription drugs for Bill Gates' mother" (Rauber, New York Post, 8/21). On NBC's "Meet the Press," Karl Rove, the Bush campaign's chief strategist, said that the Texas governor would soon offer a detailed plan for revamping Medicare and providing a prescription drug benefit for seniors (Bruni, New York Times, 8/21). However, as he reeled off a list of Bush promises -- including Medicare reform, a prescription drug benefit and patients' rights -- Gore campaign chief William Daley interrupted him, claiming, "That's our agenda." Rove responded, "And we'll achieve it. You've had seven years" (New York Post, 8/21).
Gore Speech Delivers
Meanwhile, according to a Newsday article, Gore's Thursday acceptance speech at the Democratic convention in Los Angeles "hit a responsive chord" among a group of 36 swing voters in California. "It was a home run," Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who surveyed the panelists for MSNBC, said. For the group, the "most dramatic moment" came when Gore addressed Ian Malone, a Washington toddler denied coverage by his parents' HMO. The participants used meters to show their positive and negative reaction to Gore's remarks throughout the address. On a scale of one to 100, Gore's scores ranged from 50 to more than 90, while Bush polled between 45 and 75 for his acceptance speech in Philadelphia on Aug. 3 (Toedtman, 8/20).
Bush Backs Vets' Health
In other campaign news, Bush launched a health initiative of his own today, promising to spend $1.3 billion to improve the military, including veterans' health care. He pledged to create a "Veterans Health Care Task Force" -- comprised of officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans service organizations and VA health care providers -- to help implement the Veterans Millennium Health Care Act. "A volunteer military has only two paths. It can lower its standards to fill its ranks. Or it can inspire the best and brightest to join and stay," Bush said (Kellman, AP/Nando Times, 8/21).