- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 25, 2004

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — President Bush yesterday touted the success of community health centers in providing low-cost health care for 6 million uninsured Americans, urging congressional support to build more of them as an alternative to “federalizing the health system.”

Mr. Bush, whose job-approval ratings are at an all-time low, made his 17th visit as president to Ohio, a battleground state in November’s presidential election.

The president told an enthusiastic crowd of health care professionals at Youngstown State University that his plan to build or expand 1,200 community health centers is the most efficient way to bring down the cost of health care.

“These are facilities that provide primary and prenatal care, checkups, immunization, preventative treatments to anybody who needs them,” Mr. Bush said. “This is a wise expenditure of taxpayers’ money. It relieves pressure off of the emergency rooms, and it provides a safety net for some of the citizens in our communities.”

However, Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts thinks there is a better solution. His plan to revamp the nation’s health care system focuses on federal coverage of millions of uninsured Americans, “including most children,” his campaign’s Web site says.

The Kerry campaign says the president’s inaction on the health care “crisis” throughout his term has resulted in families paying 49 percent more for their insurance since 2000 and has left 3.7 million more people uninsured.

“George Bush’s solution to the health care crisis in America is to close his eyes and pretend it’s not there,” said Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer.

Mr. Bush’s plan relies more on the private sector to find solutions with financial aid from the federal government. Community health centers, medical savings accounts and tax breaks would help fill in the gap of the uninsured in the president’s plan, so that “the patient-doctor relationship is the center of health care decision-making, not Washington, D.C.”

“These things make sense. It’s a heck of a lot better system than having the entire health care system federalized,” Mr. Bush said. “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.”

Mr. Bush urged Congress to act on his plan to increase funding for community health centers to meet his goal of providing care for 16 million low-income people by 2006.

He also chided the U.S. Senate for stalling his plan to reform medical-liability law to discourage what he called “junk and frivolous lawsuits” that he blames for increasing the cost of health care.

“Listen, everybody will have their day in court, but a reasonable person must know that the system is totally out of whack when you start driving people out of business — people who you need in your communities,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush won Ohio’s 21 electoral votes in 2000 with 50 percent of the vote to Al Gore’s 46 percent. Recent polls in this battleground state, however, show Mr. Kerry up by five to seven percentage points.

No Republican has won the presidency without winning Ohio.

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