President Bush Promotes Community Health Centers Plan at Ohio Event
President Bush on Tuesday highlighted his efforts to promote community health centers as part of a "Conversation on Health Care and Health Centers" at Youngstown State University in Ohio, the Akron Beacon Journal reports (Chancellor, Akron Beacon Journal, 5/26). In a 45-minute conversation with a physician and two uninsured patients who received care at community health centers, Bush made the case that "the patient-doctor relationship is the center of health care decision-making, not Washington, D.C." (Sanger, New York Times, 5/26). At the event -- attended by a number of health care professionals invited by the White House -- Bush discussed the importance of his five-year plan to expand or open 1,200 community health centers, which provide care to a large number of uninsured and underinsured patients, to serve more than six million uninsured U.S. residents (Yost, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 5/25). Bush in his fiscal year 2005 budget proposal included a $1.8 billion request for community health centers, an increase of $218 million from FY 2004 and a 57% increase since he took office, according to a White House background paper. Bush called community health centers "a safety net" for uninsured residents (Chen/Kemper, Los Angeles Times, 5/26). In addition, Bush called his plan to expand community health centers an alternative to "federalizing the health system," adding, "We recognize in our society (that) people can't afford health care, and they need access to health care. And it's a practical way to do so" (Lakely, Washington Times, 5/26). Bush also discussed other parts of his health care plan, such as medical liability reform, health savings accounts, Medicare reform and tax credits to help uninsured residents purchase health insurance (Akron Beacon Journal, 5/26). Although the Bush reelection campaign did not organize the event, "very little about a presidential visit lacks political overtones," the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports (Koff/Naymik, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 5/25). According to the Los Angeles Times, the event "signaled" that Bush will not "cede the issue" of health care to Democrats (Chen/Kemper, Los Angeles Times, 5/26).
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) said that Bush should have allowed the public to attend the event, adding, "By closing the event to the public, the president did not have to take questions from any of the thousands of men and women who have recently lost their jobs and their health care along with it" (Akron Beacon Journal, 5/26). The National Association of Community Health Centers, a not-for-profit group that represents the centers, "welcomed Bush's support for the centers but still said more funding was needed," the Los Angeles Times reports (Chen/Kemper, Los Angeles Times, 5/26). Officials for the campaign of presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) criticized Bush for his efforts on health care since he took office. Kerry spokesperson Phil Singer said, "His solution to the health care crisis in America is to close his eyes and pretend it's not there" (McCormick, Chicago Tribune, 5/26). At a campaign event in Portland, Ore., on Tuesday, Kerry cited increased health care costs as an indication of the economic problems that the nation has experienced since Bush took office (Finnegan, Los Angeles Times, 5/26).
- PBS' "Nightly Business Report" on Tuesday reported on the "political fallout" of the increased number of employers that have reduced health care benefits for employees. The segment includes comments from Bush; Harry Holzer, a labor economist at Georgetown University; and Dallas Salisbury, president and CEO of the Employee Benefit Research Institute (Woods, "Nightly Business Report," PBS, 5/25). The complete transcript is available online.
- Doug Badger, a White House health care policy adviser, on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. ET in the "Ask the White House" chat will answer questions about plans proposed by Bush to help uninsured residents. A transcript will be available online after the chat.