WEEK IN REVIEW: Gore Touts Health Care Plans, Chides Bush
On the campaign trail last week, Vice President Al Gore promoted his prescription drug benefit plan and challenged rival Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) to reveal the details of his own proposal, the Washington Post reports (Allen, 8/29). Under Gore's 10-year, $253 billion plan, low-income seniors would receive full prescription drug coverage under Medicare, while remaining seniors would pay for half their pharmaceutical costs up to $5,000 a year. "It's just wrong for seniors to have to choose between food and medicine while the big drug companies run up record profits. I will fight for a prescription drug benefit for all seniors under Medicare," Gore announced to a crowd in Tallahassee on Aug. 28, goading Bush to offer specifics on his own drug plan. "The time for generalities ... is just about over ... it's put up or shut up time," he said (Boyer, Washington Times, 8/29). Gore also continued his assault on drug companies last week, criticizing Claritin manufacturer Schering-Plough Corp. and Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories, the maker of Lodine, for spending "more money on advertising than on research" and charging high prices for the drugs. "I'm all for [drug companies] making profits and having more money for research and whatnot. But I'm not going to stand by if they behave in an unfair way," he said, vowing to veto any legislation extending "monopoly patents" for prescription drugs (Sack, New York Times, 8/29).
Lieberman Joins In
On Aug. 28, Gore running mate Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) also criticized Bush for his lack of details regarding his prescription drug proposal. "Our opponents don't have a real prescription drug plan," he said, adding, "To the extent that they have a plan ... it is a bad plan that would leave at least half of all seniors with no real coverage" (Gerstenzang/Gold, Los Angeles Times, 8/29). Lieberman also targeted pharmaceutical companies, saying, "They're just charging too much, and it's too hard for seniors to pay."
Gore = Big Government?
Meanwhile, the Bush campaign issued a statement calling the vice president's prescription drug proposal "a nationalized drug plan ... similar to Hillary Clinton's attempt to nationalize health care in 1993" (Washington Post, 8/29). Bush spokesperson Karen Hughes echoed that statement on Aug. 28, arguing, "Gore is trying to do for prescription drugs precisely what Hillary Clinton tried to do for health care, and that's (to) have government control" (Los Angeles Times, 8/29). And according to Bush spokesperson Dan Bartlett, "By proposing a one-size-fits-all, government-run drug plan, Al Gore ... fully embraced the old-style, government-knows-best approach the American people soundly rejected when Hillary Clinton tried it in 1993" (Washington Times, 8/29). Bush is scheduled to release his own Medicare proposals today (See story 7).
Watching the Watchers
Network news journalists also addressed prescription drug coverage last week, tracking Gore and Bush on the campaign trail. Excerpts of their comments appear below.
- Terry Moran, ABC's "World News Tonight": "Gore went on the attack ... blam[ing] drug companies for the high cost of prescription medicines for older Americans. ... But he may have a problem with his own rhetoric, since one of the main recipients of drug industry campaign funds is his own running mate;"
- Phil Jones, CBS's "Evening News": "Gore was in Florida ... listening to seniors struggling to pay for their prescription drugs. ... (Gore) criticized Gov. Bush for not yet presenting a specific plan to pay for prescription drugs. ... Gore sense[s] he has Bush on the ropes so he's on the attack;"
- Claire Shipman, NBC's "Nightly News": "The vice president attacks the drugmakers and (has) harsh words for his opponent. ... Gore's advisers say privately they can't figure out why Bush hasn't outlined a prescription drug plan ... but they also know he still has time to do it;"
- David Gregory, NBC's "Nightly News": "Bush aides dispute the charge that he has been silent on the health care debate, saying it's the vice president who's been part of an administration that for seven years has failed to deliver a prescription drug benefit to older Americans" (National Journal transcript, 8/29).
Sealing the 'Lock Box'
Gore continued his health care campaign on Aug. 30, vowing to strengthen Medicare by establishing a "lock box" to protect the program's surplus, projected to reach $400 billion over the next 10 years, the Washington Post reports. "We need to take the Medicare trust fund and take it out of the rest of the budget, put it in an ironclad lock box with a sign that says, 'Politicians, hands off -- don't use this money for anything except Medicare," Gore said, adding, "Our opponents have not done that." Gore also criticized Bush's proposed tax cuts, arguing that they would "hurt Medicare and hurt our economy and stop our prosperity and progress" (Washington Post, 8/31). In addition to the lock box proposal, Gore pledged to restore Medicare funding to teaching hospitals, nursing homes, rural hospitals, home health care aides and rehabilitative services, programs cut in the 1997 balanced budget act (Sack/Dao, New York Times, 8/31). However, in an Aug. 30 CNN interview, Bush said that Gore had squandered opportunities to bolster Medicare during his vice presidency. "When it comes to Medicare ... this administration has had seven years to get something done -- seven years, and nothing has happened," he said (Washington Post, 8/31).
Magic Number Still 65
Gore also rejected recommendations from last year's bipartisan commission on Medicare, promising that he would not raise the retirement age from 65 to 67, force seniors into managed care plans or raise premiums and copayments (New York Times, 8/31). "[My] opponent has criticized me for not supporting the [Medicare] commission. I will not support the commission's recommendation to raise the eligibility age," he said. According to Hughes, however, "[Bush] has said he would not increase the age to qualify for Medicare ... If the vice president says otherwise, then he's deliberately engaging in falsehoods" (Glover, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 8/31). The Bush campaign also noted that Lieberman sided with Republicans in 1997 to raise the eligibility age and to raise premiums for some Medicare beneficiaries, but Lieberman spokesperson Dan Gerstein dismissed the charge. "At the time [of the votes], projections were that the system would be bankrupt in four or five years. Sen. Lieberman ... saw it as necessary to salvage the program," he said, adding, "His recent record shows he's very much in synch with the vice president" (New York Times, 8/31).
Trumpeting Patients' Rights
At a Aug. 31 rally in Seattle, Gore and Lieberman championed a "meaningful, real, enforceable patients' bill of rights" for all Americans. "There's an emergency in America all right, and it's the lack of a strong, enforceable patients' bill of rights," Gore trumpeted, adding, "Joe Lieberman and I will fight to pass one, because it's time to take the medical decisions away from the HMOs and insurance companies and give them back to the ... health care professionals" (Neal/Allen, Washington Post, 9/1). The Gore plan would provide access to emergency room care and specialists, prevent HMOs and insurance companies from making medical decisions, allow doctors to tell patients about all treatment options, protect medical records, prevent insurers and employers from discriminating against people based on genetic information and allow patients to appeal HMO decisions and sue health plans. While touting his own proposal, Gore challenged Bush to "offer the same." According to the Bush campaign, the Republican governor already has enacted a patients' bill of rights in Texas, a plan considered a "model" by the AMA (Greenberg, Associated Press, 8/31). Bush also has supported a congressional Republican proposal that would offer fewer protections than Gore's plan (Gerstenzang, Los Angeles Times, 9/1). The Gore campaign countered that the GOP proposal backed by Bush would not allow patients to sue HMOs, leaving 135 million Americans unprotected (Kornblut, Boston Globe, 9/1).
Something for the Kids
Last week, Gore also renewed his pledge to provide health coverage for the nation's 11 million uninsured children by 2005, the New York Times reports. Relying heavily on the Children's Health Insurance Program, Gore's proposal would lower the program's eligibility level to include families with incomes up to 250% of the poverty level, about $41,000 for a family of four. "We need to cover every single child within this next presidential term," Gore announced at a campaign stop in Albuquerque, challenging Bush to offer a similar plan (Sack, 8/30). At a San Diego event, Lieberman also touted Gore's children's health insurance plan, which would cost about $95 billion over 10 years. "[F]or folks who are out there working and can't afford to cover their kids themselves, the government ought to give them a hand," he said (Gold, Los Angeles Times, 8/30). According to Bartlett, Bush has offered a proposal to provide low-income families with a $2,000 tax credit to purchase health insurance. However, Gore policy adviser Sarah Bianchi claimed that the Bush tax credit "would not be large enough to help many families buy (health) insurance in the private market" (New York Times, 8/30).