ELECTION 2000: Consumers Union ‘Prefers’ Bradley Plan
A new comparison of Bill Bradley's and Al Gore's health plans by the Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, endorses the Bradley proposal over Gore's plan. The report, released Tuesday, rates Bradley's plan "preferable" to the Gore proposal in seven measures: commitment to universality, progress insuring all children, Medicare prescription drugs, market reforms, equitable and efficient tax policies, realistic cost estimates and financing plan and incremental steps toward covering the uninsured. Analysts rated Gore's plan higher in only one category -- Medicare reform. A summary of the report's key findings follows:
- Commitment to Universality: "The strength of the economy makes this a good time to take bold steps on health care. More coverage is better than less -- even if more costly -- and therefore Sen. Bradley's plan offers a more meaningful starting point for tackling the problem of the uninsured."
- Real Progress Insuring Children: "Consumers Union prefers the Bradley proposal because subsidies are greater and because of the mandate that all children be covered."
- Medicare Coverage of Prescriptions: "The Bradley proposal is somewhat preferable to the Gore proposal because of the deeper coverage for those most in need, but the voluntary nature (of both proposals) is a concern because of 'selection' of costlier enrollees, inability to spread costs broadly and failure to cover everyone."
- Medicare Reforms: "Consumers Union prefers the Gore position in support of the Administration's Medicare proposal, but we note that his is not explicitly discussed on Gore's Web site. We urge Senator Bradley to expand his position on the long term reforms of Medicare."
- Market Reforms: "Consumers Union strongly prefers the Bradley plan, since it would make comprehensive coverage available to all at group prices."
- Equitable and Efficient Tax Policies: "Consumers Union prefers the Bradley plan's deep refundable tax credit for the poor, but note that we would prefer to delete the individual tax deduction of health insurance premiums."
- Incremental Steps Toward Covering the Uninsured: "Consumers Union prefers the Bradley incremental steps to the Gore incremental steps because we believe that they are more effective in reducing the ranks of the uninsured."
- Realistic Cost Estimate and Financing Plan: "Consumers Union prefers the Bradley plan because of its explicit inclusion of cost estimates" (Consumers Union release, 11/9).
Consumer Union's support of Bradley's cost estimates is sure to draw attention from both candidates, who have squabbled over the issue since Gore charged during last month's debate that the "Bradley plan was excessive, exceeding $1 trillion over 10 years, and would leave no money to keep Medicare solvent." Calling the statement "troubling," the Consumers Union report notes that they "believe that Vice President Gore overstated the impact of covering the uninsured on the Medicare program. It is possible for this nation to address the needs of all people -- children, adults and seniors" (Consumers Union report, 11/9). Columnists Jack Germond and Jules Witcover comment on the ongoing debate between Bradley and Gore in Wednesday's Baltimore Sun, pointing out that no matter how many shots Gore takes at Bradley or his proposal, the former senator always seems to maintain his "almost blissful composure," keeping his promise to "accentuate the positive." After Gore's attack on his health plan costs, they note, Bradley simply "contented himself with observing that he and the vice president each had his experts and that he had confidence in his own." Thus far Bradley has "answered [Gore's attacks] in the mildest of ways," challenging the old adage, "Nice guys finish last," the writers conclude (11/10).
Health Issues Gain Electoral Ground
Meanwhile, a Boston Herald poll of 352 likely Democratic voters and 362 likely Republican New Hampshire voters conducted before last month's debate at Dartmouth College reveals that "New Hampshire's thriving economy has transformed the state's presidential race into a battle over social issues such as health care and education." Democratic voters ranked health care for the poor as their second highest priority, just behind Social Security. The rising concern over health care may serve to benefit Bradley, who has proposed to expand health insurance nationwide and is now slightly ahead of Gore, according to the poll's results. The Boston Herald also reports that, surprisingly, "consumer health care rights and health insurance for the poor -- issues normally dominated by Democrats -- ranked as the sixth and seventh top issues of GOP voters" in New Hampshire. The trend is putting increasing pressure on GOP front-runner Texas Gov. George W. Bush to unveil his own health care agenda (Battenfeld, 11/10). Most Republican candidates have offered proposals on their web sites, but none has elaborated on the plans while campaigning, the Baltimore Sun reports. "Republicans won't [engage in the debate]. They can't. The first thing they're told is: 'Don't debate health issues. The Democrats will clobber you.' So they stay clear," former Minnesota GOP Senator Dave Durenberger said. Political analysts note, however, that the reemergence of health care as a hot campaign topic among both Democrats and Republicans eventually will force the Republican nominee to join the debate (Weisman, 11/10).