- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 14, 2004

BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, arguing that voters “are hungry for a real discussion,” yesterday promoted a health care plan that he said would save consumers $1,000 each.

The Massachusetts senator said the swing yesterday through Pennsylvania and Ohio, both of which have lost manufacturing jobs, was the opening salvo in his effort to focus the presidential campaign on issues that matter to voters, such as health care and jobs.

“Americans struggling to pay health care don’t need misleading attacks; they need meaningful answers,” Mr. Kerry said at a town-hall meeting, where he heard from workers who lost health care coverage with their jobs.

Mr. Kerry said more than 1 million people a year have lost coverage under President Bush, and average health-insurance premiums have increased by $793.

“The millions and millions of Americans with and without health insurance who fear opening their medical bills are the unheard majority in this debate,” he said. “They’re not silent, they’ve just been ignored.”

A centerpiece of Mr. Kerry’s campaign is his call for repealing those Bush-backed tax cuts that benefit the wealthiest taxpayers and using the proceeds to broaden health coverage.

Mr. Bush says Mr. Kerry really wants higher taxes, an assertion Mr. Kerry called “the biggest distortion of all.”

“The plan I’ve offered will save Americans $1,000 a year in their health care costs,” he said. “If George Bush thinks Americans would rather have tax cuts for the wealthiest, I welcome that debate.”

A spokesman for the Bush re-election campaign charged that Mr. Kerry has done little during a long political career in Congress to improve the nation’s health care system.

“He never passed a major piece of health care legislation during his 19 years in the U.S. Senate,” spokesman Steve Schmidt said. “The only thing he has done for seniors is vote for higher taxes on Social Security benefits.”

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