GORE & BRADLEY: New Year, Same Old Health Care Debate
During their first debate in the new year, Democratic presidential hopefuls Vice President Al Gore and Bill Bradley last night resumed their argument over health care, trading barbs over Medicaid and Medicare. Gore once again attacked Bradley's Medicaid plan, charging that the proposal will leave blacks and Latinos "high and dry," unable to afford health insurance (New York Times transcript, 1/6). But Bradley took offense to Gore's attack, accusing the vice president of misrepresenting his health care plan. "To say to me, who's had the deep commitment to the issue of racial unity in this country since I started in politics, that I would go out and hurt African Americans and Latinos consciously, as part of a policy, I think that really offended me," Bradley said (Berke, New York Times, 1/6). An unapologetic Gore, however, argued that Bradley's plan to replace Medicaid with a $150 voucher "is entirely inadequate" and would not enable Medicaid beneficiaries to afford coverage, particularly hurting minorities since they are disproportionately represented in Medicaid. Showing a card that listed the prices of numerous health insurance plans, Gore said that there is not a single Federal Employees Health Plan that "can be purchased for anything close to $150 a month" (New York Times transcript, 1/6). Bradley defended his proposal, pointing out that the $150 voucher was a weighted average that would fluctuate depending on geography and cost. "Let me explain to you, Al, how the private sector works. ... If you have 30 million people, you're going to find insurance companies competing to provide the lowest cost service," he said. But Gore refused to back down, asking, "What is a weighted average? I remember the old story about the man who had his feet on a block of ice and his head in the oven and according to the weighted average he was really comfortable with it. ... All the people who would be affected in New Hampshire would be left out, they would be left high and dry because there is no plan they can buy into" (Kranish/Zuckman, Boston Globe, 1/6). Later, in a press release, the Gore campaign added, "It is absurd to think that these people, now covered by Medicaid, will be picked up by the private health care market. ... There is no such thing as a 'low cost' health insurance policy for someone with AIDS, for an elderly person who needs a nursing home or for a disabled person" (Gore release, 1/5).
Gore also challenged Bradley's Medicare proposal. Noting that the program is only 15 years away from bankruptcy, Gore said, "I've devoted $374 billion to the solvency of Medicare. You have not devoted one penny to insuring the solvency of Medicare. ... Why not?" Bradley, responded, "The question is different timing. If we grow faster than 2.9% it's going to have money dedicated to Medicare. It's as simple as that" (New York Times transcript, 1/6). The Wall Street Journal reports that Bradley's answer represents a subtle change to his position, noting that thus far, Bradley has not "put forward any proposals that would guarantee such speedy growth" (Davis, Wall Street Journal, 1/6). The two candidates will meet again Saturday in Des Moines, IA, where Gore is leading Bradley in the polls for the Jan. 24 caucus. The six Republican contenders will debate tonight in New Hampshire and again Friday in South Carolina (Bendetto/McQuillan, USA Today, 1/6)