- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2004


President Bush, who has made health care a top item in his election-year agenda, used his weekly radio address yesterday to promote his plan to address rising medical costs and the growing ranks of the uninsured.

The cost of health care is becoming a bigger concern for Americans, according to an Associated Press poll, and several surveys suggest the public is evenly divided on Mr. Bush’s handling of domestic issues, such as education and health care.

As a result, Democrats have pledged to stress the increase in the number of people without health insurance during his three years in office.

In his State of the Union address Tuesday, Mr. Bush touted his ideas for attacking the problem. He repeated that remedy, for what he termed “a great priority for our nation,” in a speech yesterday.

The issue also is the focus of a trip Mr. Bush is making tomorrow to Little Rock, Ark. The president is reviving old proposals for a cap on medical malpractice lawsuit awards, which he says are driving up doctors’ insurance premiums and thus the cost of care, and for tax credits of up to $1,000 for individuals and $3,000 for families to help low-income workers buy health insurance.

He also is proposing that people who buy catastrophic health care coverage as part of newly created health savings accounts be allowed to deduct 100 percent of the premiums from their taxes.

He urged the Senate to act on a bill passed in the House that would allow small businesses to band together and negotiate lower insurance rates so they can cover workers. He also said his 2005 budget, to be delivered to Congress next month, would request double the funding — to $100 million — for projects that use promising health information technology, with the goal of a unified system of computerized medical records that Mr. Bush said would reduce errors and save money.

The president asked Congress to act this year on all his proposals.

“It is time to address this problem directly,” he said.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat — called the Bush plan “a disappointment to all Americans struggling with skyrocketing health costs.”

“It rewards the healthy and wealthy and does little for the rest of America,” he said. “If we’re going to make real progress on health reform, someone has to take on drug company and insurance company profits — and clearly it’s not George Bush.”

In the Democrats’ radio response yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said 100,000 Americans have lost health insurance each month since Mr. Bush took office in January 2001, and a recent Medicare overhaul doesn’t do enough to provide relief from high prescription drug costs.

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