- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2000

Support for the Bush-Cheney ticket

I agree with your editorial on Texas Gov. George W. Bush's selection of Richard B. Cheney as his running mate ("Cheney's competence," July 26). This team says something very positive about the GOP in general. The choice also makes clear the sharp contrast between today's Republicans and their Democrat foes.

While Democrats are vexing over their party's proposed fund-raising function at the mansion of a pornographer and donor to the Gore campaign (they are such hypocrites on woman's rights issues), the Republican candidates for president and vice president are the consummate professionals ready and able to lead.

Mr. Bush has made a tremendous difference in Texas on the education front, and Mr. Cheney has performed admirably for our nation on national defense and foreign policy issues as well as serving admirably in Congress. These men are accomplished public servants with resumes that demonstrate admirable effort and skill.

After nearly eight dreadful years of enduring an administration as inept at foreign policy as the Clinton/Gore paint-by-numbers bomb and bombast administration, Mr. Cheney's expertise is to be longed for by Americans desirous of a coherent foreign policy instead of a well-oiled political fund-raising machine. Mr. Cheney's abilities as a statesman bode well for the United States.

It's the professionalism of the Republican team that makes it a winner. Bush-Cheney is the ticket representing sober, sensible policy-oriented solutions to national defense, education and foreign policy. At very least, the Bush-Cheney team puts the national interest above the obsessive and scandal-ridden, fund-raising interests of their clownish Democratic competitors.

DENNIS N. MAAS

Arlington

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The choice of Richard B. Cheney as the Republican vice presidential candidate is a sagacious one, and it expresses Texas Gov. George W. Bush's pragmatism and clear-eyed concern for the nation. Additionally, the choice severely calls into question the coming strategy of the Gore campaign to paint Mr. Bush's candidacy as inexperienced and risky.

A man like Mr. Cheney summarily defeats Vice President Al Gore's tactics with demonstrated leadership, professionalism and quiet tactfulness.

The choice of Mr. Cheney, a former secretary of defense, also underlines Mr. Bush's stated aim to rebuild the nation's military. The Clinton-Gore team has seriously weakened both the morale and capability of the nation's armed forces. Additionally, a Bush-Cheney probable choice of Gen. Colin Powell as secretary of defense would immeasurably improve the nation's defenses. These steps are long overdue and must be undertaken immediately at the end of the Clinton-Gore era.

The voters are eager to sweep D.C. clean of the obvious moral degradation of the last two terms. A Bush-Cheney team promises to restore the dignity of the office of the president and to begin the long process of undoing the jolting damage done to the executive branch by President Clinton.

B.J. ZAJAC

Philadelphia

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After reading the news analysis "Both parties happy with Cheney" (July 26), I am completely convinced that Richard B. Cheney is an excellent choice for Texas Gov. George W. Bush's running mate. The reason is because the Democrats wouldn't be whining, crying and attacking this hard if he wasn't. They sure didn't waste much time, which means they must be afraid.

ROBERT E. BRAND

Gaithersburg

Time to breach Snake River dams

The July 20 article, "Clinton opposes removal of dams," illustrates the administration's history of inaction when it comes to saving endangered salmon. The story fails to mention the enormous costs of these dams, however.

After spending $20 million studying the fish to death, and more than $3 billion on failing salmon recovery efforts, the federal agencies continue to evade this issue.

As if that wasn't enough, federal taxpayers could be liable for billions in compensation payments to Columbia River Basin tribes if the fish go extinct. It's time to do what's right for salmon and taxpayers, breach the four Lower Snake River dams.

KATHLEEN MCNEILLY

Director

Snake River campaign

Taxpayers for Common Sense

Washington

Bad information in 'Bad medicine' column

Morton Kondracke's column about the Medicare prescription drug debate repeats several myths about the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) and does a disservice to the 4,500 persons who work to ensure that the 39 million Americans who rely on Medicare for health care coverage receive the high quality of care they deserve ("Bad medicine in Gore's prescription," Commentary, July 15).

HCFA does not "rigidly decide how much the government will pay for medical procedures and hospital services." Nor does HCFA set reimbursement rates for Medicare+Choice HMO plans, as the column suggests. The law does that, setting prices for all payments to physicians, hospitals, home health agencies and other providers.

The 1997 Balanced Budget Act created the health maintenance organization (HMO) payment formula with a guaranteed annual increase of at least 2 percent, even when overall Medicare spending is flat, in every county in the country. Indeed, HCFA has tried to experiment with competitive market-based pricing models for HMOs but has been prevented for doing so by the Congress.

And HCFA does not "over regulate" the managed care plans in Medicare+Choice. Working with the HMOs, we continue to streamline the program. We have modified many requirements in our contracts and operations to be more consistent with the approaches used by private and other public purchasers. We have a physician with experience running a managed care plan overseeing this streamlining operation.

About 70 percent of Medicare beneficiaries have access to an HMO. About 16 percent have chosen this option. The majority of beneficiaries chose to remain in traditional fee-for-service Medicare. And no beneficiary loses Medicare coverage because an HMO leaves the program. Beneficiaries can return to regular fee-for-service Medicare or enroll in another managed care plan where one is available.

The administration has worked with Congress to address concerns raised by some health care providers about provisions of the Balanced Budget Act, and the president has proposed increasing payments by $21 billion in five years and $40 billion in 10 years as part of his Medicare reform plan.

Contrary to Mr. Kondracke's column, HCFA has built a strong record for making timely coverage decisions. Last year, we launched a new process that provides an open, understandable and dependable procedure for processing coverage applications. And it is working well. It contains tight timelines, and so far HCFA has met or beaten these self-imposed deadlines.

Most coverage decisions are made by the private insurance companies that, by law, process and pay Medicare claims. These contractors also are streamlining their coverage decision processes.

There also is a timetable for appeals, and our claims processing contractors are required to process appeals within 90 days the average time is about half that. We also have taken additional steps recently to speed up the appeals process.

We do not "cut off" Medicare beneficiaries in hospices as Mr. Kondracke suggests. Medicare beneficiaries can receive hospice care indefinitely as long as they meet eligibility requirements set in law. About 10 percent of all Medicare beneficiaries who choose the hospice benefit live longer than six months. More than 400,000 beneficiaries and their families choose the hospice benefit each year.

We will continue to protect this important choice for beneficiaries.

HCFA makes every effort to see that Medicare provides the best possible care for all its beneficiaries, that claims are paid properly and promptly, and that the appeals process works both for Medicare beneficiaries and health care providers.

NANCY-ANN DEPARLE

Administrator

Health Care Financing Administration

Department of Health and Human Services

Washington

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