- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2000

Difficult though it may be to believe, judging from Vice President Al Gore's overblown rhetoric, today fully two-thirds of the elderly population have some form of insurance coverage for prescription drugs. In addition, Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor, pays for the prescription costs for millions of other senior citizens. Meanwhile, income statistics reveal that the 65- to 74-year-olds and those over 75 enjoy the highest median net worth among all age groups. These same two groups also have sizable average annual discretionary income levels about $11,000 and $8,500, respectively. This is money available to be saved or spent on goods and services after meeting basic needs food, shelter, taxes, health care, etc. Until the 2000 presidential campaign began, moreover, the Clinton-Gore administration had done virtually nothing to highlight the supposed national crisis that inflicts the beneficiaries of the Medicare program, which has no prescription drug component.

Suddenly, the issue of prescription drugs for seniors has become a paramount concern of Vice President Al Gore, who never misses an opportunity to demagogue the matter, pillorying the U.S. drug industry in the process. Why? It's quite simple. Mr. Gore, who long ago demonstrated he would say and do anything to be elected president, is pandering for votes. He knows a high proportion of the elderly votes, unlike those 25-years-old and younger.

Thus, Mr. Gore has been determined to do whatever it takes to capture what he considers an indispensable constituency, irrespective of the cost to taxpayers. And the cost is substantial. The Gore prescription drug plan would offer substantial drug subsidies to every Medicare household, including billionaire Warren Buffett's. The annual premium would increase from about $300 in 2002 to about $600 in 2008. Medicare would pay 50 percent of prescription expenses, with the government share limited to $1,000 in 2002 and $2,500 in 2008. In any year, the government would pay for all prescription drugs after a household spent $4,000. For low-income households, Medicare would pay the full costs.

Predictably, Mr. Gore's campaign low-balled the cost of all this, pegging it at $253 billion over 10 years. The Congressional Budget Office scored it at $338 billion. Moreover, because Mr. Gore's subsidies are slowly phased in from 2002 through 2008, the average annual cost will be much higher after the initial decade. Mr. Gore's government-dominated, one-size-fits-all plan would surely eventually replace the tens of millions of drug insurance plans that are currently in force.

Gov. George W. Bush offers a more modest plan whose 10-year cost would be $158 billion, including funds expended on behalf of overall Medicare reform, which would rely on market forces, not the heavy hand of government that so enamors Mr. Gore. Like Mr. Gore's plan, Mr. Bush's proposal would also pay for all prescriptions for low-income households. And the Bush plan would pay for all medical expenses not just prescription drugs above $6,000 per year. Whereas Mr. Gore would commit a 50 percent premium subsidy, Mr. Bush would limit his to 25 percent. But he would exploit the cost advantages offered by the competitive private market. In terms of both short-term and long-term costs, as well as its emphasis on reform, Mr. Bush's plan is the far superior one.

"This really comes down to the fact that the Republicans would help a few of our seniors," President Clinton remarked earlier this month, "but they don't want to help all of them." Undoubtedly, the fact that all seniors do not need help never occurred to him.

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