AKRON, Ohio — Sen. John Kerry blamed the just-announced increase in Medicare premiums on a “failed policy” by President Bush yesterday while campaigning in this crucial state.
The Bush administration said Friday that the monthly premiums seniors will pay for Medicare will increase $11.60, or 17 percent, next year, the largest increase in the program’s nearly 40-year history.
“Who are they going to send the bill to?” Mr. Kerry asked the crowd of several thousand filling the infield of a baseball diamond here. “Are they going to send the bill to Haliburton? Are they going to send the bill to Ken Lay and Enron? You bet they’re not. They’re going to send the bill to our senior citizens. They’re going to send the bill to all of you.”
Mark McClellan, head of the federal health insurance program for the elderly and disabled, said patients will save money overall in the long run.
“Medicare beneficiaries are saving money,” Dr. McClellan said. “They’re paying a little more in premiums, but they’re getting more savings in their out-of-pocket costs as a result.”
The Kerry campaign sprang into action, producing a television ad accusing Mr. Bush of “misleading on Medicare.”
“I believe we have a moral responsibility to honor America’s seniors,” the ad shows Mr. Bush saying during his acceptance speech at the Republican convention Thursday night. “Now seniors are getting immediate help.”
The narrator interjects: “The very next day, George Bush imposes the biggest Medicare premium increase in history while prescription drug costs still skyrocket.”
During the rally here yesterday, one Kerry supporter shouted something about Mr. Bush hating the elderly.
“This woman here just said that Bush hates seniors,” the Democratic presidential nominee responded. “Now, I don’t think he hates seniors. I really don’t. I hope the president doesn’t hate anybody.” But Mr. Kerry went on to say that whenever Mr. Bush is faced with choosing “decency” and the “broad interest of the American people,” he has always chosen “the narrow interests” of the wealthy.
“This president is taking money from Social Security in order to reward the already most rewarded in America,” he said.
The Bush campaign — also traveling in Ohio — said the higher costs are part of larger problems with rising health care costs and blamed Mr. Kerry and his running mate Sen. John Edwards — who made $39 million over 10 years as a personal injury lawyer — for not supporting lawsuit reform.
“John Kerry’s completely opposed to fixing the system,” said Steve Schmidt with the Bush campaign. “He picks trial lawyers over doctors and patients.”
The Kerry campaign also accused Mr. Bush of trying to conceal the bad news by releasing it on a slow Friday before a major holiday weekend. They said he timed the information to come out as a hurricane bore down on Florida, when the state’s huge elderly population was preoccupied with other matters.
Dr. McClellan disputed those claims and said the administration is “getting these numbers out as soon as we can.”
Later yesterday afternoon, Mr. Kerry stopped at a farm near Edinburg for a backyard barbecue. After milling around the crowd for a few minutes, Mr. Kerry and former Ohio Sen. John Glenn stepped down the hill for some trap shooting in front of the three busloads of reporters traveling with him.
After practicing his shooting stances with several different guns in front of the cameras, the Massachusetts senator chose the 12-gauge over-and-under shotgun. After a couple of rounds, Mr. Kerry had hit four and missed six while Mr. Glenn had hit eight and missed three.
A supporter then picked up a .410-gauge shotgun and dusted four of the clay pigeons thrown for him. He offered the gun — with smoke still drifting from the barrel — to Mr. Kerry, who declined.
Late last night, Mr. Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, was taken to an Iowa hospital after complaining of an upset stomach, a spokeswoman said. She was taken by ambulance from the airport, where she was departing to Pittsburgh after a campaign stop separate from Mr. Kerry.
“As a precaution, Mrs. Heinz Kerry had a series of routine tests performed and was released,” her spokeswoman Sarah Geggenheimar said. “She is feeling better and is traveling to her home in Pittsburgh tonight as planned.”
Mrs. Kerry was visiting her fourth Iowa city in two days. She had earlier stopped in Cedar Rapids, Davenport and Des Moines, talking about rising health care costs and shrinking insurance coverage.
This story is based in part on wire services.