Health care tops agenda for presidential candidates

Erin Ghere

Of all the campaign issues debated this election season, none is more relentless than health care.
In its varied forms — including Medicare, abortion and health coverage — health care has been discussed at length since Republican Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Democratic Vice President Al Gore began campaigning.
With so many issues crammed under one umbrella term, the differences between the candidates on each issue are difficult to discern
Health coverage
Today, there are more than 43 million Americans without health care insurance.
Bush has said he will make health insurance more affordable by allowing families to purchase a health plan on their own that would include hospitalization, physician benefits and discounted prescription drugs.
Under his proposal, families would receive a $2,000 refundable health credit to do so.
In addition, Bush has said he would make it easier for small businesses to insure their employees by making health plans more affordable. A Bush administration would also empower individuals, according to his Web site, by lifting restrictions on Health Flexible Savings and medical savings accounts.
Gore too, has said he would expand access to health care coverage. By increasing eligibility for the Children’s Health Insurance Program to include parents, affordable options for Americans ages 55 to 62 with a 25 percent tax credit for premium costs would be possible.
He has proposed expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act to include businesses with more than 25 employees and to include giving 24 hours of additional time off.
In line with the Clinton administration, Gore said he will push for the Patients Bill of Rights. The bill would ensure patients’ health protections and allow medical decisions to be made by patients and doctors.
At Saturday’s Minneapolis rally, Gore said there are seniors who must decide whether to buy prescription drugs or buy groceries, calling it a disgrace.
Green Party candidate Ralph Nader is advocating universal health care. The system would provide comprehensive insurance from birth to death, funded directly by the federal government.
The proposal would also distribute the access to health care more evenly and cut health management organizations (HMOs) out of the equation.
Abortion
Bush has said he disagreed with the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the abortion pill, RU-486, but has said he could not change it unless the drug was found to be unsafe for women.
From a broader perspective, Bush has said he is anti-abortion except in the cases of rape, incest and protecting the mother’s life, and has set the goal that all children be welcomed in life and protected by law.
He also supports parental notification, banning the use of taxpayer dollars for abortion and banning partial-birth abortions.
With four Supreme Court justices near retirement, Bush has said he would not use abortion as a litmus test but would pattern his nominees after Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Both justices have said they would not oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.
But Gore has said on a regular basis he supports a woman’s right to choose and would only appoint Supreme Court justices who would not overturn Roe v. Wade.
He has been endorsed by the National Abortion and Reproduction Rights Action League and heartily agreed with the FDA’s approval of RU-486.
Additionally, Gore has said he would oppose attempts to restrict Medicaid funding for abortions, work to ensure clinic safety and support reproductive rights for military personnel.
Nader stands close to Gore on the abortion issue.
“I don’t think government has the proper role in forcing a woman to have a child or forcing a woman not to have a child,” he said on CNN’s Meet the Press.
All three candidates agree their administrations would work to reduce the number of abortions.
Medicare
Bush has said he would reform Medicare to allow senior citizens access to prescription drugs and modern medicine.
Calling the current system a “one-size-fits-all benefits package,” he said his administration would allow seniors to choose their own comprehensive health plans.
He would also cover the full cost of Medicare premiums for low-income seniors, as well as the cost of catastrophic Medicare for all seniors. In addition, he would provide seniors with prescription drug coverage and pay the costs for low-income seniors.
“Medicare must offer comprehensive coverage for low-income seniors, including prescription drugs. And any reform must ensure the solvency of Medicare,” Bush said in a May speech at a senior center.
To do this, Bush has proposed $48 billion of direct support to states across four years.
Gore’s plan would also improve prescription drug coverage by subsidizing half the cost of the drugs — up to $5,000 annually. He would also offer a new catastrophic prescription drug benefit.
He has said he would put Medicare “in a lock box,” which will extend the life of the program until at least 2030, by devoting the interest savings from debt reduction to it. He would also strengthen the program through price competition among managed care plans and cost savings for competitive savings.
Nader said he would put price restraints on all drugs developed with taxpayers’ dollars, including AIDS drugs.