- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 14, 2004

MILWAUKEE — Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry yesterday accused President Bush of writing the 2004 Medicare trust fund report to hide the program’s higher costs.

He said this year’s report from the trustees drops a key chart that showed how much paying Medicare’s premiums will eat out of an average senior’s Social Security income. It appeared in the 2001, 2002 and 2003 reports.

The Massachusetts senator said the administration is trying to hide the fact that Medicare costs as a percent of Social Security payments has jumped from 14 percent in 2000 to a projected 37 percent in 2006.

“They’re being dishonest with you about it. They’re hiding the truth from you,” Mr. Kerry told elderly voters at a seniors’ center in Milwaukee yesterday.

Republicans had hoped last year’s Medicare-overhaul bill, including the new prescription- drug benefit starting in 2006, would be a winning issue this year. But with seniors at the least confused — and according to some polls, unhappy — with the new bill, Mr. Kerry and Democrats see an opening.

Republicans, though, said Mr. Kerry is taking one number out of context and distorting the whole issue.

Dr. Mark McClellan, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the premiums went up because, with the new law, Medicare itself now covers so many more services. While the premiums go up to reflect the new care, seniors are no longer paying as much for out-of-pocket services like drugs and preventive care, he said.

“The result is seniors are paying a lot less on out-of-pocket costs overall,” he said.

And Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who wrote the new Medicare law, said Mr. Kerry himself has in the past voted for the formula that sets premiums, and has proposed increased spending that would have boosted the premiums by even more than last year’s law.

“I just don’t understand it. And to me, it’s intellectually dishonest or else political demagoguery,” he said.

Mr. Kerry, refocusing on domestic policy as he traveled through three Midwestern cities yesterday, still sought to link Mr. Bush’s domestic record to international policy and the war in Iraq.

He and fellow Democrats like Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said both are examples of how the Bush administration has tried to deceive the nation.

“They misinformed the American people of Iraq, and they’ve done the same thing on health care,” Mr. Kennedy said yesterday on the floor of the Senate. “How long are we going to take it?”

Mr. Kerry echoed that theme yesterday afternoon, speaking in Toledo, Ohio: “They hide the truth about Iraq; they hide the truth about No Child Left Behind; they hide the truth about what’s happening in Medicare. It’s time we had a president who tells the American people the truth.”

Both parties are paying close attention to Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes this year. In 2000 the state voted narrowly for Democratic candidate Al Gore, but recent polls show Mr. Bush may now have a slight edge over Mr. Kerry.

Mr. Kerry woke up yesterday to an article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel quoting Democrats worried about his chances.

“I don’t think I’d want the election today,” La Crosse Mayor John Medinger, a Democrat, told the newspaper. “If it were, I think John Kerry and John Edwards would be in big trouble in Wisconsin and in the country.”

A new Gallup-CNN-USA Today poll found that among likely voters in Wisconsin, Mr. Bush has now crossed the all-important 50 percent threshold, and leads 52 percent to 44 percent.

Mr. Kerry will be back in Wisconsin today to campaign in Madison, while Mr. Bush’s twin daughters will also campaign in Wisconsin today), making several stops at college campuses.

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