Thursday, August 12, 2004

HENDERSON, Nev. — Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry yesterday called for President Bush to disavow his signature Medicare prescription drug program and allow for medicine to be imported from Canada.

“I call on the president to do what he should have done in the first place. I call on the president to get out of the way of Americans being able to import drugs from Canada at a lower price,” Mr. Kerry told about 800 elderly Nevadans at a town hall forum.

Mr. Kerry’s targeting of seniors comes on the heels of a poll Tuesday from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health that found that 47 percent of Medicare recipients viewed the law unfavorably, while 26 percent thought it was good.

Mr. Bush pressured Congress to pass the bill and then signed it into law last year. It has been in effect for a few months. The earliest phase, a discount drug card, has not caught on with seniors, and actual Medicare assistance for drug costs doesn’t kick in until 2006.

Mr. Kerry, who frequently talks about the program, brags about having voted against it.

“I proudly, and I think rightly, voted against this prescription drug bill that the president has put in place that hurts seniors in this country,” Mr. Kerry said yesterday. “I’m for a real prescription drug benefit that covers people without a great big hole in it. Without a pricing scheme that actually has you pay more money than you ought to be for these drugs, and without a structure that forces 3.8 million Americans out of Medicare and forces them into HMOs.”

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, California Republican, said yesterday that the bill he and other Republican leaders wrote was not what he had preferred, and that Democrats’ recent criticisms of the law “clearly worked to a certain extent” in pushing the poll numbers down.

Still, he said, the Kaiser survey showed that the vast majority of Medicare recipients want to amend the bill, rather than repeal it. Mr. Thomas said that is why Mr. Kerry no longer pledges to “repeal that phony bill” — a promise he made to voters in New Hampshire during the primary.

Yesterday, Mr. Kerry laid out his new position: “I don’t want to repeal it. I want to fix it. I want to plug the hole, and I want to give every American a prescription drug benefit that works.”

But Mr. Thomas faulted Mr. Kerry, who was a member of the Senate Finance Committee that wrote the chamber’s version of the bill, for not stepping forward with his ideas last year.

“He was AWOL throughout the entire process, and now he has ideas that supposedly would be very simple to do?” Mr. Thomas said.

Mr. Kerry also said Social Security doesn’t need anything more than “a little tweak here, a little tweak there.”

“I will never privatize Social Security, I will not cut the benefits, and I will not raise the retirement age in this country. Period,” Mr. Kerry said.

Last year, Mr. Bush’s advisers had told Republicans to expect a major push on issues such as personal investment accounts as part of Social Security during the 2004 campaign, but that has not materialized.

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