President Bush To Discuss Health Care at Campaign Events in Minnesota
President Bush on Thursday at campaign events in Minnesota plans to focus on health care -- an issue "where Bush is weakest in polls" against rival Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) -- and "paint Kerry as a big-government, anti-business, anti-patient politician," the AP/Hartford Courant reports.
The campaign events will include a question-and-answer session in Blaine, a suburb of Minneapolis, and rallies in St. Cloud and Rochester. Bush aides hope that the campaign events will lead to local media coverage in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin -- three states that "remain true tossups in the race," according to the AP/Courant (Loven, AP/Hartford Courant. 9/16).
Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Wednesday in a conference call with journalists said that Kerry supported policies that led to a recently announced 17.5% increase in Medicare Part B premiums for 2005, the Des Moines Register reports. According to Grassley, Kerry in September 2003 signed a letter with other senators that asked for "meaningful" increases in funds for Medicare HMOs, the Register reports (Norman, Des Moines Register, 9/16). Increases in physician reimbursements and other spending under traditional, fee-for-service Medicare, as well as an increase in reimbursements for private health insurers that offer Medicare HMOs, led to the Part B premium increase, according to HHS.
Kerry in recent days has criticized Bush for the premium increase. Under a 1997 law, CMS must set the premiums at an amount that would cover about 25% of the cost of Medicare Part B, which covers physician and other outpatient services. However, Democrats have said that the law only establishes a formula to set the premiums, not specific amounts (California Healthline, 9/15). Kerry has called the premium increase "another broken promise" by Bush. Grassley said "it's a surprise" that Kerry would criticize a Medicare formula that has remained about the same for a number of years. "When you pay doctors more, when you pay HMOs more, the cost of Medicare goes up," Grassley said. He added that Kerry and other Democrats "were part of developing the formula." Grassley said, "They've advocated the same policies that have led to increases in health care costs." Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said that Grassley is "missing the point," which is that Bush has not taken action to control health care costs that affect Medicare. "The point is we need cost controls," Harkin said (Des Moines Register, 9/16).
The Philadelphia Inquirer on Thursday examined recent efforts by Kerry to "hit the president hard" on his "key vulnerabilities" -- the increased number of uninsured U.S. residents, high health care costs and other issues -- as polls indicate that Bush "has lost some of his early September luster" (Kuhnhenn, Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/16).
PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" on Wednesday included an interview with Brooks Jackson -- director of FactCheck.org, a not-for-profit, nonpartisan research project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania -- about the accuracy of the presidential candidates' claims in their campaign speeches, including comments on health care (Smith, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 9/15). The complete transcript is available online. The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
In addition, WAMU's "The Diane Rehm Show" on Thursday will include a discussion of Bush and Kerry's "dueling" proposals and philosophies for reforming health care. Guests on the program will include Sarah Bianchi, national policy director for the Kerry campaign, and Gail Wilensky, a senior fellow at Project HOPE and informal adviser to the Bush campaign (Rehm, "The Diane Rehm Show," WAMU, 9/16). The complete segment will be available online in RealPlayer after the broadcast.