- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 11, 2004

EDINBORO, Pa. (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry yesterday hailed his health care plan as the prescription for cutting soaring premiums and reducing fraud and waste, calling the system under President Bush “badly broken.”

Focusing on health care in a weeklong swing to battleground states, Mr. Kerry complained that insurance companies are posting record profits while consumer costs and the expense for employers have reached crisis proportions.

“Our health care system is badly broken,” Mr. Kerry told nursing students at Pennsylvania’s Edinboro University. “Today, regular checkups are emptying family checkbooks. Waiting for a doctor’s bill is causing as much anxiety as waiting for a diagnosis.”

Families are facing record premiums while insurance companies are earning record profits, Mr. Kerry said. Total family premiums have risen more than $2,700 in four years, a rate of growth four times that of workers’ earnings.

The average American family pays nearly $10,000 a year for a policy, his campaign said, more than in any other country. U.S. employers have responded by slowing hiring and shifting work to part-time and temporary employees, the campaign said.

“It’s not acceptable to do nothing while families lose their savings, workers lose their jobs and businesses close their doors because of the high cost of health care,” Mr. Kerry said.

The Democrat’s campaign began in Erie, Pa., a state that offers 21 electoral votes and narrowly went for Al Gore in 2000. Mr. Kerry then heads to Kentucky (eight electoral votes, comfortable Bush win in 2000) and Florida (27 electoral votes, razor-thin Bush victory) before wrapping up in Little Rock, Ark., which offers six electoral votes and was a close Bush win four years ago.

The senator from Massachusetts, who did not spell out a new policy, has offered a health care plan that calls for repealing Mr. Bush’s tax cut for Americans making more than $200,000 annually, and using the money to bolster health care. Mr. Kerry would have the federal government assume the costs of the most catastrophic cases, which he says would relieve health insurance costs for businesses as well as workers.

Mr. Kerry is launching his effort in a carefully coordinated national push. Democratic National Committee officials have planned events with key surrogates nationwide, and the Kerry campaign released a Web video to supporters, showing Bush saying in January 2000: “I’ll have the goal, the idea of making sure people have got affordable health care and insurance policies to make sure they’re able to pay for them.”

The video then says, “Under Bush, family premiums have increased $2,777,” and that “Bush has no plan to lower rates.”

Aides to the Bush campaign dismissed the effort, saying the president’s plan to lower health care costs will allow more people to have health insurance.

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