President Bush, Democratic Presidential Nominee Sen. John Kerry Focus Campaigns on Health Care
President Bush plans to discuss his health care plan on Monday at a "Democratic stronghold" in Muskegon, Mich., which will be the first of a three-stop bus tour in the state, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports. According to AP/Newsday, Bush on the campaign trail has said that he "stands with the doctors and Americans who are struggling to find affordable medical services" and "rarely misses an opportunity on the campaign trail to note" that Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) "earned millions" as a medical liability trial attorney before entering politics.
Bush campaign spokesperson Scott Stanzel said that Bush will "focus on his vision for strengthening health care, versus [Democratic presidential nominee Sen.] John Kerry's [Mass.] view of putting government in charge and shifting the costs to taxpayers after the government has been put in charge. The president has a different view, in that he wants to strengthen the patient-doctor relationship and put more control in the hands of consumers."
According to a recent AP-Ipsos poll, 51% of registered voters stay they disapprove of how Bush is handling domestic issues such as health care.
Kerry last week at campaign appearances "worked ... to turn the campaign focus to health care issues" such as the reimportation of lower-cost, U.S.-made prescription drugs, an issue that "plays well in the northern battleground states," including Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, the AP/Newsday reports (Riechmann, AP/Long Island Newsday, 9/13). Kerry on Friday at a "large rally" in Allentown, Penn., said the Bush administration "broke the law" by improperly withholding from Congress information about the cost of the new Medicare law, the Washington Post reports (Farhi, Washington Post, 9/11).
Earlier this year, chief Medicare actuary Richard Foster said that former CMS Administrator Tom Scully prevented him from informing Congress of higher cost estimates for the Medicare legislation. According to Office of Management and Budget estimates released after Congress passed the legislation, the Medicare law is projected to cost $534 billion over the next 10 years -- $134 billion more than was estimated by the Congressional Budget Office. Foster has said that the higher cost projection was known before the final House and Senate votes on the legislation in November but that Scully allegedly told him, "We can't let that get out." In an e-mail to colleagues at CMS, Foster indicated that he believed he might lose his job if he revealed the higher cost estimates. Scully has said that he did not threaten to fire Foster if the higher estimates were released.
In a formal legal opinion issued Tuesday, GAO said that Scully should have to repay about half of his $145,600 salary for last year because he improperly ordered Medicare's chief actuary to withhold from Congress information about the cost of the new Medicare law (California Healthline, 9/8).
According to the Post, Kerry is using "heated rhetoric on Medicare" and "rising health care costs" to "help sway undecided voters, blunting President Bush's advantage in leading the war on terrorism." Kerry on Friday said, "[The Bush administration] intimidated and blocked [Foster] from telling the truth. They broke the law."
Kerry at an earlier speech in Missouri on Friday said, "The problem of what's happening with health care represents a real problem with this administration and with George Bush's priorities because his priority has been: Number one, the insurance companies, the HMOs; number two, the drug companies; ... and number three, you."
According to the Post, Kerry's speech was in part a response to a recent ad from the Bush campaign that "points out [Kerry's] voting record on Medicare and accuses him of hypocrisy" (Washington Post, 9/11). The Post's Ad Watch on Saturday looked at the Bush campaign ad (Kurtz, Washington Post, 9/11).
In a Missouri speech on Saturday, Kerry "promised" that his administration would legalize the reimportation of lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada, the Washington Times reports. According to the Washington Times, Kerry's speech came at a time when "polls continue to suggest he's losing support among likely voters" in the state.
Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) introduced Kerry and "dismissed" FDA claims that reimportation could be dangerous, the Washington Times reports. "If it's good enough for the people of Canada, it's good enough for the people of the United States ... [Kerry] will get the ability for seniors to get their prescription drugs from Canada and other countries in the world," Gephardt said.
Kerry said in his speech, "I just came from Minnesota the other day -- that's the gateway to Canadian drugs. And when I'm president, we're going to make all of America the gateway to the same drugs" (Hurt, Washington Times, 9/11).
The New York Times on Sunday examined how Medicare has "suddenly emerged as a volatile issue" in the election following the recent announcement of a "sharp increase" in premium rates (Pear/Hulse, New York Times, 9/12).
HHS officials earlier this month announced that monthly premiums for Medicare Part B -- which covers physician services, outpatient hospital care, some home health services and durable medical equipment -- will increase about 17% to $78.20 in 2005. The increase of $11.60 per month is the single largest dollar increase in Medicare's history. Premiums rose 13.5% this year and 8.7% last year (American Health Line, 9/9).
According to the New York Times, both parties are looking to "seek advantage with older voters," with Democrats "hoping to reclaim an issue central to their success in past elections" by proposing legislation that would reduce premiums rates and connecting the increase to the issue of reimportation. Republicans are "trying to pin the responsibility for the increase on Congress and on [Kerry]" for passing a premium formula as part of a 1997 deficit-reduction bill, the New York Times reports.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said, "There will be a real attempt to stick [the premium increase] on the president, but the fact that Senator Kerry five times has voted for the premium increase, I believe, puts anything he says in jeopardy."
HHS spokesperson William Pierce said that bills proposed by Democrats to cap premium rates are "a purely political attempt" to exploit the elderly.
Democrats have said they believe "they could turn the Medicare issue to their advantage" because the Bush administration "bore much of the responsibility" for the premium increase and "had done little to control health costs" by directing "too much Medicare money to the managed care industry," the New York Times reports. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said, "Why are senior citizens getting socked? Because President Bush has done nothing to control soaring health care costs and because he values high profits for HMOs and drug companies more than he values senior citizens."
Although Frist said the Senate would not soon vote on bills to legalize reimportation and roll back Medicare premiums, congressional Democrats said they are "determined to force votes" on the issues, the New York Times reports (Pear/Hulse, New York Times, 9/12).
Time recently looked at Kerry and Bush's policy proposals, including the candidates' plans to address the "tangled thicket of the U.S. health care system." According to Time, "[b]oth plans win limited praise" (Thottam, Time, 9/13).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Monday reported on how claims in advertisements by the Bush and Kerry campaigns do more "to confuse than to clarify" information about Medicare premium increases, which have "intensified the debate over health care for seniors." The segment includes comments from Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, and excerpts from Bush and Kerry campaign ads on Medicare (Rovner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 9/13). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer. In addition, CNN's "Sunday Morning" in a series of interviews with Democratic and Republican state lawmakers in 14 battleground states about issues of concern to voters on Sunday interviewed Arkansas state Reps. Joyce Elliot (D) and Jeremy Hutchinson (R). Both Elliot and Hutchinson discuss rising health care costs in the state (Nguyen, "Sunday Morning," CNN, 9/12). The complete transcript 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.