Democratic Presidential Candidate Gephardt Criticizes Dean for Past Support of Medicare Cuts
Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) on Friday accused fellow Democratic president candidate and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean of siding with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and other congressional Republicans in the mid-1990s on a plan to decrease spending on Medicare, the Des Moines Register reports. In a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, Gephardt said, "Howard Dean's beliefs about Medicare extend beyond merely disliking it. He's actually advocated cutting it and turning it into a wholly managed care program. And that's something I will never agree to. Gov. Dean actually agreed with the Gingrich Republicans" (Beaumont, Des Moines Register, 9/13). In support of the statements, Gephardt aides provided several quotes from newspaper and television interviews in which Dean expressed support for cutting Medicare in an attempt to balance the federal budget. Several of the articles reported that Dean "praised" congressional Republicans for their plans to reduce the growth of Medicare; others indicated Dean's support for making Medicare rely more on managed care (Brownstein, Los Angeles Times, 9/13).
According to the AP/Washington Times, Dean in December 1995, as Vermont's governor, advocated making Medicare a managed care program and said that savings from such a program could be used to purchase prescription drugs for beneficiaries (AP/Washington Times, 9/13). In addition, Dean in his 1992 state of the state address as Vermont's governor said, "We already have a national health care system in this country for those over 65. It's called Medicare, and it is one of the worst-run programs in this country, both for the patients and the doctors. Medicare is a potent example of why the federal government must not be allowed to run national health insurance" (Los Angeles Times, 9/13). Gephardt also referred to a 1995 article from a Montpelier, Vt., newspaper which quoted Dean as saying he supported a plan offered by U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) that would have put restrictions on Medicare coverage and would have required some beneficiaries to pay more for certain services (Des Moines Register, 9/13). Gephardt, who is trailing Dean in some polls of Iowa Democrats for the state's presidential caucuses in January, said he helped defeat a Gingrich-led plan for a "$270 billion cut in Medicare" (Witcover, Baltimore Sun, 9/13). In his speech, Gephardt also criticized President Bush and the GOP for its "ongoing assault upon ... Medicare [that] is driven by a cynical belief that th[is] vital progra[m] [is] nothing more than some form of expendable charity" (Balz, Washington Post, 9/13).
Dean on Friday issued a statement criticizing Gephardt for "engaging in name-calling, guilt by association and scare tactics," the Los Angeles Times reports. Although Dean's statement did not address the substance of Gephardt's statements or dispute the accuracy of the statements Gephardt cited, Dean's campaign manager Joe Trippi said that Dean supported changes to the Medicare program in the mid-1990s as a way to ensure that the program remained viable (Los Angeles Times, 9/13). Dean said in the statement, "It is a sad day for Dick Gephardt when he compares ANY Democratic candidate running for President to Newt Gingrich and his divisive policies. No Democrat in the presidential race bears any resemblance to Newt Gingrich on any major issue" (Washington Post, 9/13). Trippi added that Dean and other Democrats favored Medicare reforms in the 1990s but said that such reforms would not be needed "if you can get a sound economy." Trippi said that Dean could ensure Medicare's solvency by rolling back the tax cuts enacted by Bush (Des Moines Register, 9/13). In a campaign stop in New Hampshire on Friday, Dean called Medicare "a very badly run program," but he added, "But there's no way that I'm going to take benefits away from all the seniors in the country. That's a ludicrous idea" (Swarns, New York Times, 9/13). A video excerpt of a segment about the Medicare debate on ABC's "This Week" is available online in RealPlayer.
In New Hampshire on Friday, Dean also endorsed federal mental health parity legislation, which would require insurers to provide the same coverage for mental and physical illnesses, the Boston Herald reports. Dean also called for school-based mental health screening for children, integrated mental health and substance abuse treatment and ending financial aid rules that discourage people with mental illnesses from working (Marantz, Boston Herald, 9/13).
In related news, the Boston Globe today looks at how presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), a trial lawyer before entering the Senate, "was one of [medical malpractice law's] most prominent specialists, stretching the reach of the law for nearly two decades" (Davis, Boston Globe, 9/15).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.