BRADLEY: Launches Rebuttal to Gore’s Health Plan Attacks
Launching his most personal and pointed rebuttal at Vice President Al Gore's continuing attack on his proposed health care reform plan, Democratic Presidential hopeful Bill Bradley called Gore's proposal an attempt to "take a broken system and throw more money at it," the Washington Post reports. Although he has been loath to criticize Gore directly, Bradley did so repeatedly in his address to the New Hampshire Presidential Forum on Health Care yesterday. Bradley expressly outlined differences between the two candidates' plans. He said, "I cover all children. He does not. ... I broaden access to all Americans. He does not. I help millions of hard-working Americans pay for the health insurance they have. He does not. I make health care portable so it can be taken from job to job. He does not. I give the poor on Medicaid something better." In recent weeks, Gore has stepped up attacks on the Bradley plan, specifically targeting his proposal to eliminate Medicaid. However, Bradley was determined to refute claims that he wants to "abolish Medicaid." Noting that Medicaid reimbursement rates vary from state to state leaving many physicians unwilling to treat Medicaid patients, Bradley said this forces many to seek treatment at emergency rooms. "Under the plan I have offered, [Medicaid recipients] would have private health insurance to get care before they get sick," Bradley said (Broder, 12/1). In addition, Bradley accused Gore of "turn[ing] his back" on full-scale health reform after President Clinton's 1994 reform attempt failed. He said that the vice president has learned "the wrong lesson" from that defeat and is currently offering a "few small, symbolic" changes to the system (Braun, Los Angeles Times, 12/1).
The Nuts and Bolts
In USA Today, columnist Walter Shapiro strips the Bradley plan down to its essentials. Under the plan, families with incomes up to 300% of the federal poverty level will receive subsidies to cover the full cost of their health insurance. Families with higher incomes will receive subsidies on a sliding scale. For those already covered under their employers' plans, the subsidies would be used to offset the cost of other health care services. In addition, those eligible for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program would be encouraged to enroll. Shapiro notes that the two biggest charges levied against the Bradley plan are that it would "bust the budget" and harm Medicaid dependents. According to health care expert Kenneth Thorpe, Bradley's plan could cost up to $1.06 trillion, consuming the entire budget surplus. However, Thorpe notes that if the $380 billion to cover Medicare prescription benefits is left out, the cost shrinks to a more manageable $680 billion. Bradley has indicated that he would be willing to negotiate the Medicare drug benefit. As for Medicaid, the "real question is whether the full subsidy levels ... are enough to pay for private health insurance plans." Although most insurance plans offered to federal employees are more costly than the $1,800 proposed subsidy, Margy Heldring, Bradley's health care adviser, said that the subsidies are "weighted averages" and would vary from state to state. Shapiro concludes that the Bradley plan is a proposal to "'lay out something big, recognizing there will be changes in the course of the legislative process,'" that does not "justify the venom of Gore's attack-dog tactics" (12/1).