- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2000

ALLENTOWN, Pa. Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush yesterday proposed Medicare reforms that would cost $158 billion over 10 years, including prescription-drug coverage for low-income seniors, whom he said the Clinton-Gore administration has abandoned.
"Eight million more Americans are left without health insurance than in 1993 a 20 percent increase," Mr. Bush said in the most comprehensive health care address of his campaign. "In a wealthy nation, this is a scandal."
In a full day of campaigning in this swing state, Mr. Bush also continued to pressure Vice President Al Gore to accept his terms for presidential debates, the first of which could be held on Tuesday if Mr. Gore agrees.
A Bush adviser said the Republican's campaign will probably air a television ad soon to call into question Mr. Gore's willingness to debate.
"He's changing his mind," Mr. Bush said of Mr. Gore at a Republican fund-raising luncheon in Bethlehem, Pa. "I want to debate because our opinions are so different. We trust people. They trust bureaucrats."
Mr. Bush announced his Medicare proposals after taking criticism for more than a week from the Gore campaign that he lacked a plan. Mr. Gore last week proposed a prescription-drug benefit for Medicare recipients that would cost at least $253 billion over 10 years.
Yesterday, at a senior citizens complex in Allentown, Mr. Bush released the details of his plan to help seniors pay for prescription drugs and all or part of their Medicare premiums.
Unlike Mr. Gore's prescription-drug plan, Mr. Bush's program would give the elderly the option of selecting a drug plan either through Medicare or a private provider. Payments would be higher if they picked a plan with more generous benefits.
The Bush plan includes $48 billion over four years in immediate aid to states to help seniors who cannot afford prescription drugs. The plan also proposes $110 billion in additional spending over 10 years to overhaul the Medicare system, including sliding-scale subsidies for health-insurance premiums based on income, and a $6,000 cap on yearly out-of-pocket prescription-drug expenses.
Separately, Mr. Bush would spend $40 billion over 10 years to restore reimbursements for hospitals and other health care providers, cuts required by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.
Mr. Bush assured voters that no Medicare recipient would lose current coverage or be forced to change health care plans. He said his proposal offers more flexibility for seniors than Mr. Gore's "one-size-fits-all" proposal.
"This is the path to bipartisan, long-term reform," Mr. Bush said. "And this plan will help seniors much sooner than anything proposed by Vice President Gore."
Mr. Gore was quick to attack the Bush plan during a campaign stop in Columbus, Ohio.
"There are really three problems with it," Mr. Gore said. "Number one, it leaves millions of seniors without any prescription-drug coverage, middle-class seniors. Nearly half of all of those who don't have coverage today would not get coverage under the plan that he's announcing today.
"The second problem is, it would still force seniors into HMOs and managed health plans, even if they don't want to go into them. And as we have seen, there are a lot of problems with the way some of the HMOs have been treating all Americans.
"And number three, the biggest problem is, there's no money to pay for it if you give away all of the surplus in the form of a giant tax cut to the wealthy at the expense of the middle-class in a way that stops our prosperity and progress."
Mr. Bush wants to pay for the new benefits with a portion of the federal surplus, projected at $4 trillion.
Mr. Bush emphasized that his proposed new spending would be on top of normal projected increases in the Medicare budget, which he said will rise from about $200 billion to roughly $400 billion over the next 10 years.
Including the latest Medicare proposals, all of Mr. Bush's spending plans thus far would cost taxpayers $750 billion over the next 10 years, according to a running tally computed by the National Taxpayers Union.
Mr. Gore's spending plans would total $4.49 trillion over the coming decade, the NTU estimated yesterday.
"That would consume all of the anticipated budget surplus, including the Social Security surplus," said NTU spokesman Peter Sepp.
Gail Wilensky, an adviser to Mr. Bush on health-care policy, said the candidate's Medicare proposal is closely modeled on the plan that provides health insurance for federal employees. It would offer a list of both government and private health care services from which beneficiaries could choose.
Mr. Bush is counting on voters to examine Mr. Gore's record on the issue.
"Vice President Gore talks about the 'people' versus the 'powerful,' " Mr. Bush said. "For eight years, he has been the powerful and, on health care, he has little to show for it. This is a patient country, but our patience is wearing thin."
Mr. Bush said the administration has "frustrated" the bipartisan Breaux-Frist commission named for Sens. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, and Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican that was charged in 1997 with proposing Medicare reforms.
"At the last minute, the Clinton-Gore administration turned against the commission and undermined its work," Mr. Bush said. "Instead of solving an important problem, they chose to score political points."

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