Thursday, January 27, 2005

President Bush and Sen. John Kerry — in a replay of last year’s presidential campaign — delivered dueling speeches about health care yesterday, with the Massachusetts Democrat savaging the president in his first major address since conceding defeat.

“Today, the president of the United States is in Ohio, and he is addressing this issue of health care,” Mr. Kerry said at a conference at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in the District. “But his effort, I regret to say to you, is the same window dressing, the same avoidance of reality, that we’ve seen throughout the last four years.”

Mr. Kerry, speaking one year after winning the New Hampshire primary, called for a tax increase on wealthy Americans to pay for universal health care coverage for children. The proposal was not embraced by the tax-cutting president, and he avoided mentioning Mr. Kerry’s name during a speech at the Cleveland Clinic.

“There’s good, well-meaning folks who believe that the best health care system is run where Washington, D.C., makes the decisions,” Mr. Bush said. “I happen to believe the best health care system is one where the consumers, the patients, make the decisions.”

Mr. Kerry accused the president of downplaying “a real and present health care crisis, even as he seeks to hype a phony crisis in Social Security. You know what that sounds like to me? Sounds like a cradle-to-grave irresponsibility plan.”

Mr. Bush, who called for an “era of responsibility” during the presidential campaign, said yesterday that he is trying to cut the cost of health care by encouraging doctors and hospitals to replace paper medical records with electronic files. He reassured patients that their files will be kept confidential.

“I presume I’m like most Americans — I think my medical records should be private,” he said. “I don’t want people prying into them; I don’t want people looking at them; I don’t want people opening them up unless I say it’s fine for you to do so.”

Mr. Bush said record-keeping practices in the medical profession are badly outdated.

During a round-table discussion after his speech, Mr. Bush called for tort reform, an issue that he discussed throughout the campaign against Mr. Kerry and his trial-lawyer running mate, John Edwards, who was a senator from North Carolina.

“It is important for members of Congress, members of the United States Senate, to know that an unbalanced legal system, a system where the law is like a lottery when it comes to suing people in medicine, is driving good people out of practice,” he added. “We need medical-liability reform now.”

The president’s plan to limit lawsuits against doctors is opposed by Mr. Kerry, who also opposed Mr. Bush’s nomination of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state. Mr. Kerry was one of 13 senators who voted against Miss Rice on Wednesday.

The senator began yesterday’s speech with a self-deprecating joke about not winning enough votes in the crucial state of Ohio. He also kidded about ending up back on Capitol Hill, while Mr. Bush was able to return to the White House.

“I did have to travel a few more blocks than I’d hoped to get here,” the Democrat said after arriving at the hotel.

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