Democratic Presidential Nominee Sen. John Kerry Promotes Medicare Law Revisions, Prescription Drug Reimportation
Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) on Wednesday told hundreds of seniors at a town hall meeting in Henderson, Nev., that he would seek to revise the new Medicare law and that President Bush has "stood in the way" of legalized reimportation of lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada and other nations, the New York Times reports. Kerry focused on the Medicare and reimportation issues as part of his recent "intense effort to court the elderly," the Times reports (Wilgoren, New York Times, 8/12).
As part of a new "Seniors for Kerry-Edwards" program, Kerry hopes to increase voter registration among seniors; inform them about absentee ballots and polling places; host events at senior centers and retirement homes; appeal to seniors through the younger generations in their families; and launch an Internet-based campaign (California Healthline, 8/11). The Kerry campaign on Wednesday distributed pillboxes with the Kerry logo and released a chart that indicated how much more some popular medications cost in the United States than in Canada.
Kerry campaign strategists said that they are "banking on a backlash" to the Medicare law to appeal to senior voters in Nevada and "other retiree-rich states like Arizona, Florida and New Mexico," the New York Times reports (New York Times, 8/12). A survey released on Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health found that almost twice as many seniors have an unfavorable view of the new Medicare law as those who support the legislation as written (Dinan, Washington Times, 8/12). However, Laura Katz Olson, a Lehigh University professor of political science, said that seniors do not vote only on health care issues, adding, "There's a diversity of views, and they don't just vote as a block" (Finer, Washington Post, 8/12).
"Dr. Kerry is here to cure y'all," Kerry said in his speech in Nevada on Wednesday (Healy, Boston Globe, 8/12). Kerry said, "I'm for a real prescription drug benefit that covers people without a great big hole in it. Without a pricing scheme that actually has you pay more money than you ought to be for these drugs, and without a structure that forces 3.8 million Americans out of Medicare and forces them into HMOs" (Washington Times, 8/12). Kerry said that as president, he would seek to legalize reimportation, allow Medicare to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies for discounts on prescription drugs and allow generic medications to reach the market earlier to help reduce prescription drug costs for seniors (Washington Post, 8/12). Kerry used the chart to highlight that four medications -- Prevacid, Celebrex, Zocor and Plavix -- cost between 157% and 243% more in the United States than in Canada (Healy, Boston Globe, 8/12).
Kerry also criticized Bush for his opposition to reimportation. "I thought these were the people who believed in fair competition. This isn't fair competition, it's a monopoly, and it's been put in place by George Bush and his friends, and it's costing you a whole bunch of extra money, and it's wrong, it's fundamentally wrong," he said (New York Times, 8/12). Kerry added, "George Bush stood right there and said, 'Nope, we're not going to help people to have lower cost drugs in America, we're going to help the big drug companies get a great big windfall" (Pickler, AP/Contra Costa Times, 8/12).
Bush campaign spokesperson Steve Schmidt called the new Medicare prescription drug benefit "the biggest improvement in senior health since Medicare was established." Schmidt added that the recent "scare tactics" Kerry has used "aren't going to earn him the trust of America's seniors" (Kasindorf, USA Today, 8/12).
In a Bush campaign conference call, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) said that Kerry has "made up stories" about problems with the U.S. health care system and "was AWOL through the entire process" of negotiations on the Medicare law. Although Kerry missed the final vote on the Medicare law last November, both he and Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) returned from their campaigns to vote against earlier parts of the legislation and "speak out" as part of a failed filibuster, the New York Times reports (New York Times, 8/12).
Thomas also said that the legalization of reimportation could lead to higher medication prices in Canada, which would eliminate potential savings (Healy, Boston Globe, 8/12). "If you promise people the moon and that it costs them nothing to get there, I don't know how important a poll is that says people want to go to the moon," Thomas said (Washington Post, 8/12).
Teresa Heinz Kerry on Wednesday spoke in Nevada and told seniors that the Bush administration has not adequately promoted preventive care, treatment for mental illnesses or research on women's health issues (AP/Contra Costa Times, 8/12). Heinz Kerry said women have suffered because "most of the research in medicine has been done on men, younger men" (New York Times, 8/12).
The Globe on Thursday examined recent efforts by Edwards to attract votes from physicians despite his history as a personal injury trial attorney. Although Edwards in his six-year Senate career has "been the politician many doctors dislike most," he hopes to reintroduce himself to physicians as "a man whose past legal advocacy for patients stemmed from a passion for quality health care, for allowing doctors to make medical decisions instead of insurance companies, and for unfettered medical research," the Globe reports. According to the Globe, recent surveys indicate that physicians, who in the past have tended to vote for Republicans, have begun to shift toward Democrats "because of concerns over health care issues, including a patient bill of rights," which Edwards supports.
However, many physicians "remain skeptical" about Edwards, the Globe reports. A January survey conducted by the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion found that 23% of physicians approved of Edwards, compared with 30% for Kerry and 60% for Bush. Michael Fleming, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians said that "there are going to be a lot of issues playing into how physicians think about that" (Savage, Boston Globe, 8/12).
NPR's "All Things Considered" on Wednesday reported on the Kerry speech in Nevada. The segment includes comments from Kerry and George Koupias, president of the Alliance for Retired Americans (Horsley, "All Things Considered," NPR, 8/11). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer. PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" on Wednesday reported on health care issues in the presidential election. The segment includes comments from Bush in New Mexico and Kerry in Nevada (Holman, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 8/11). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer. Expanded PBS election coverage is available online.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.