Democratic Presidential Nominee Sen. John Kerry Responds to Criticism From President Bush on Health Care Plan
Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) on Tuesday during campaign stops in Wisconsin and Ohio responded to criticism from President Bush that the Kerry health care proposal would force middle-class residents to pay higher taxes to fund a "massive, complicated blueprint to have [the] government take over the decision-making in health care," USA Today reports (Kasindorf, USA Today, 9/15). The senator in particular responded to a recently released Bush campaign television ad that says his health proposal would put "big government in charge, not you, not your doctor" (Finnegan/Hook, Los Angeles Times, 9/15). Kerry characterized the ad as "misleading," USA Today reports.
At a care center in St. Francis, Wis., Kerry said that U.S. residents would be able to choose their doctors and insurance plans under his "incentive-based" program. He said, "My health care plan is not a government plan. It is not a plan that forces you to do anything." Kerry added that the plan is "not free," but it would prevent people "from being gouged" on health insurance premiums (USA Today, 9/15). In addition, Kerry, said, "We don't [propose] a government program -- I learned the lesson of '93 and '94," referring to the Clinton administration's failed attempt to overhaul the U.S. health system (Healy, Boston Globe, 9/15). Kerry added, "The first thing I'm sending to Congress -- day one -- is health care that's affordable and accessible to all Americans. I'm committed to universal health care coverage because, in America, health care is not a privilege, it's a right" (Borsuk, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 9/15).
Kerry on Wednesday is expected to air a television ad in Spanish that spotlights his pledge to ensure health care for every child.
Kerry on Tuesday also "renewed accusations" that Bush and some Republicans in Congress favor the insurance and pharmaceutical industry over consumers, the Los Angeles Times reports. Kerry referred to a provision in the Medicare law that bans the federal government from negotiating lower prices, as well as the Bush administration's opposition to allowing U.S. residents to purchase lower-cost prescription drugs from abroad (Los Angeles Times, 9/15).
Further, the senator "ratcheted up his character-based critique" of Bush during health care forums in Toledo, Ohio, and Milwaukee, alleging the Bush administration hid a chart from the 2004 report on Medicare that showed seniors will use 37.2% their Social Security payments on Medicare in 2006, the New York Times reports (Wilgoren, New York Times, 9/14).
The chart also shows that seniors on average will spend on Medicare 39.4% of their Social Security payments in 2011, 45.2% in 2016, 49.7% in 2021 and 53.2% by 2026. Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) requested the data to be released after noticing that a chart included in the previous annual reports was not in the 2004 version (California Healthline, 9/14).
The chart appeared in the 2001, 2002 and 2003 Medicare reports (Dinan, Washington Times, 9/15). In the 2004 reports, it was replaced with "a line graph with a different bottom line," according to the New York Times (New York Times, 9/15).
In a "tone of mock disbelief," Kerry noted that the missing figures "happened to cover the 2004 election year," the Los Angeles Times reports. Kerry said, "Oh my gosh, it's empty. A great, big question mark. They hid it from you. They didn't want you to know what the costs were" (Los Angeles Times, 9/15). Kerry said, "Once again, this administration hides the truth from the American people, and the reason they're hiding the truth from the American people is because of the out-of-pocket expenses of Medicare have now gone up." Kerry added, "They hide the truth about what's happening in Medicare. It's time we have a president who tells American people the truth."
He also "hammered" Bush for a recent announcement that Medicare Part B premiums will increase 17.5% next year, Long Island Newsday reports. In addition, Kerry pointed to allegations that the Bush administration withheld from Congress its cost projections for the new Medicare law (Hoy et al., Long Island Newsday, 9/14). Kerry said that officials "intimidated and bullied" a Medicare employee to withhold the figures (Boston Globe, 9/15).
Tim Adams, policy director for the Bush campaign, said that the U.S. Treasury Department prepared the Medicare report pamphlets without consulting the White House. Adams also said that the line graph included in the report better illustrates Medicare's costs and benefits. "By and large, what the chart shows is that, yes, costs are going up. They've been going up since the 1970s, but benefits are going up, too. When you compare the costs over time with the benefits received, seniors are better off because the benefits exceed the costs," Adams said (New York Times, 9/15).
Bush campaign spokesperson Steve Schmidt said, "John Kerry is resorting almost to a politics of conspiracy theory" (Boston Globe, 9/15). Schmidt added, "Kerry's attacks today on Social Security, prescription drugs and Medicare premiums came from the candidate who voted for higher taxes on Social Security benefits, opposed the Medicare prescription drug benefit and voted five times for higher Medicare premiums. Voters will not trust a candidate whose political attacks are refuted by his own record" (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 9/14).
White House spokesperson Scott McClellan said, "Because of the improvements we have made to Medicare, seniors will be realizing significant savings in their health care" (Long Island Newsday, 9/15).
CMS Administrator Mark McClellan noted that government actuaries estimate by 2006 that the typical Medicare beneficiary would "have out-of-pocket savings of $1,240" (VandeHei/Snyder, Washington Post, 9/15). He added, "The result is seniors are paying a lot less on out-of pocket costs overall" (Washington Times, 9/15).
Speaking to a national conference of the National Guard Association in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Bush noted that he has made the military's Tricare health system available to Guard personnel during deployments and, in some cases, before and after deployment.
Representatives for the Kerry campaign responded that the Bush administration last year resisted expanding Tricare coverage to Guard personnel and threatened to veto legislation to do so (Fireman, Long Island Newsday, 9/15).
Former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D), national chair for the Kerry campaign, on Monday told a group of seniors in Maine retirement homes that Bush's health care proposal is "going in the wrong direction," the Bangor Daily News reports. Shaheen added that the proposed 17.5% increase in Medicare premiums for next year is "unfortunate" (Kesseli, Bangor Daily News, 9/14).
Several broadcast programs reported on Kerry's statements on health care reform:
- ABCNews' "World News Tonight": The segment includes comments from Kerry (Reynolds, "World News Tonight," ABCNews, 9/14).
- CNN's "Inside Politics": The segment includes comments from Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), and Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) (Henry, "Inside Politics," CNN, 9/14). The complete transcript is available online.
- CNN's "NewsNight with Aaron Brown": The segment includes comments from Terry McAuliffe, chair of the Democratic National Committee (Crowley, "NewsNight with Aaron Brown," CNN, 9/14). The complete transcript is available online.
- NPR's "All Things Considered": The segment includes comments from Kerry and a Wisconsin resident who has purchased prescription drugs from Canada and supports Kerry's health care plan (Horsley, "All Things Considered," NPR, 9/14). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer": The segment reports on the differences in Bush and Kerry's economic policies, including health care. The segment includes comments from Robert Barro, senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and an economics professor at Harvard University, and Robert Reich, former Labor secretary in the Clinton administration and a professor of social and economic policy at Brandeis University (Ifill, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 9/14). The complete transcript is available online. The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.