GEORGE W. BUSH: Lack of Health Care Plan Helps Gore
With the presidential nominees for both parties set, "the free ride on health care is over" for GOP candidate George W. Bush, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Texas governor has offered "few detailed ideas" on the key policy issue, a crucial problem since Democratic nominee Al Gore, who used health care as an issue to beat his Democratic opponent Bill Bradley, now has set his sites on Bush. Bolstering Gore's attacks are "grim statistics" in Texas, where 24.5% of the population is uninsured and per capita spending for prenatal and public health are among the lowest in the country. The health care advocacy group Families USA blasted Texas for being one of the last states to join the federal Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Gore also has assailed Bush's tax cut plan, arguing that such cuts will seriously undermine Medicare and Medicaid solvency. Advisors indicated that Bush will announce some proposals "shortly."
Managed Care Trump Card
To fend off Gore's initial attacks, the Bush campaign is touting Texas' recently passed patient s' bill of rights -- despite the fact that Bush resisted the measure. The new law allows residents to sue their HMOs. Bush spokesperson Ari Fleischer said, "The governor had addressed health care in many forms in many different sessions. I think health care is always an important issue. But it's an issue that politicians in both parties need to approach with care." Bush believes that private sector solutions are the best way to solve the health care crisis, and his plan will probably include Medicare reform, tax incentives to help people buy health insurance and community-based initiatives to help low-income people receive coverage. Strategists have suggested that to compete with Gore, Bush must focus on the long term fate of Medicaid and CHIP, calling for overhauls of both programs to make them "more user friendly." According to Chip Kahn, director of the Health Insurance Association of America and "one of the GOP's rare activists on health care," the secret for Bush is "don't be afraid." He said, "What Bush will need to do is talk intelligently about the issues and try to relate to people. And then have proposals, of course."
In other election news, many Republicans are worried that health care issues could threaten their House majority. A recent Wall Street Journal poll found that 41% of voters think Democrats do a better job on health care issues, compared to 19% who said the GOP does a better job. While the Democrats are mobilizing behind measures such as a prescription drug benefit for Medicare and expanding federal programs to cover more of the uninsured, the Republicans have yet to devise a "clear, unified strategy on any key health care front" (Murray, 3/16).