- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2004

It’s not surprising that the Republicans are promoting foreign over domestic policy in New York this week. Both candidates, after all, have made the war on terror (or at least a war) the centerpiece of their campaign. But voters didn’t elect George Bush four years ago solely on his foreign-policy strengths. Conventional wisdom says Mr. Bush needs to run from his domestic record. Pardon our polite disagreement.

During the 2000 campaign, Mr. Bush ran on his “compassionate conservatism” slogan, a significant part of which was a prescription-drug and Medicare reform bill. After a nail-biting 216-215 vote in the House last summer, Congress sent to Mr. Bush a major victory and what should be a major theme in the campaign. Instead, Democratic and conservative critics trashed the new bill for its high costs and its expansion of government. We understand those concerns, though we would remind our readers of the dismal state of prescription drugs in this country.

As we noted last summer, the median household income of people 65 and older is a mere $23,118. Eighty percent of seniors take a prescription drug every day; more than 4.7 million seniors have annual drug costs in excess of $4,500; and 2.9 million are struggling with costs higher than $5,800. Meanwhile, over the past 10 years, the average retail price of prescription drugs has doubled. In 2002, spending on prescription drugs rose more than 12 percent. The law Mr. Bush signed in December saves seniors 10 percent to 25 percent off the retail price of most medicines, while low-income seniors receive an additional $600 credit. Over the next couple years, those savings will increase significantly, in some cases nearing 95 percent. As Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said in his convention speech Tuesday night, “Over 40 million seniors and individuals with disabilities will soon have access to prescription drugs.”

Mr. Frist, who’s also a doctor, further acknowledged “prescription drug coverage is the centerpiece of something bigger: the first real reform of Medicare since its creation.” Tonight, we expect Mr. Bush to promote his “ownership society,” in which the Medicare law fits nicely. The law allows Americans to control a good portion of their health care through Health Savings Accounts. A genuine free-market reform that should stem the rising costs of health insurance, HSAs are tax-free and portable, allowing a family to pay for routine medical expenses and save for the future at the same time.

Mr. Bush’s opponent, John Kerry, has made the Medicare law a campaign issue, and so far the Bush folks have let him get away with it. They shouldn’t. Since Mr. Kerry was conveniently absent on the day the Senate passed the bill, Americans should be reminded who among the candidates really is concerned about their health care.

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