Universal Health Care? Not This Election Year, Post Says
With the "thundering crash" of President Clinton's 1993 national health care plan still "ringing in the ears" of Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R), the two presidential candidates, while proposing smaller health reforms, realize that voters remain "wary of anything that looks like government control of the health care system," the Washington Post reports. Gore and Bush have "studiously avoid[ed] anything that looks like a unified solution" to the nation's health care woes, focusing instead on plans for the uninsured, prescription drug coverage for seniors and managed care reform. "There are big difference between the candidates on health care issues, but neither one is proposing anything that even remotely approaches the scope of the Clinton health plan," Larry Levitt, vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said (Brown, Washington Post, 10/26). New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser agreed, calling health care "hot" in this election "but only to a point." Noting that Bush and Gore would "rather amputate their tongues without the benefit of anesthesia than utter the words, 'nationalized health care,'" she explains that such large-scale plans may "conjur[e] up images of Hillary Clinton's disastrous efforts" and hurt the candidates in the polls (Peyser, New York Post, 10/26). The Washington Post also reports that although Bush and Gore have "varying" proposals to aid the uninsured, most experts predict that "less than one-quarter" of those lacking insurance would receive coverage under either plan. In addition, both candidates provide a "less-than-half-a-loaf solution" to the prescription drug problem (Washington Post, 10/26). In an examination of "where they stand," the New York Post analyzed Bush's and Gore's prescription drug benefit plans, concluding that the issue perhaps serves as "the best example of how [the candidates] differ in the way they approach problems." While Gore supports a drug benefit under Medicare, Bush hopes to "shake up" the program and provide prescription coverage through government subsidies to private health plans. "In the broadest sense, they differ in their view of the role of government," Tricia Newman of the Kaiser Family Foundation said. However, both candidates have used a "rhetorical overload of figures and health care jargon" to cloud the issue, with Bush accusing Gore of forcing seniors into a "government-run HMO" and Gore "blast[ing]" Bush for not covering all seniors. Brookings Institution economist Henry Aaron said that Bush "deserves credit" for proposing an "ambitious" overhaul of Medicare but added that the plan "could be costly" and will likely not win support from Congress. "Designing a reform that doesn't break the bank and makes programmatic sense isn't a minor job. It's really hard," Aaron said, adding, "It's not as though there's an idea on the shelf just waiting for somebody to enact." He also argued that Gore's plan, while "clear," remains shortsighted. "Eventually Medicare as a whole has to be reformed. Bush is right about that," Aaron said, concluding, "There's reason to be concerned if you get Gore's drug plan, it will be harder to do the full-scale Medicare reform down the road" (Blomquist, New York Post, 10/26). Gore Running on Mediscare? In her New York Post column, Peyser argues that Gore has "scared" many seniors into believing that a prescription drug benefit should fall under government control, "[o]therwise, it's picking up cans to pay for prescription drugs." Both candidates have promised to "throw piles of money" at seniors, she writes, but Bush has built his plan on a "cornerstone" of "reform," a notion that "is scaring the bejeezus out of seniors." Peyser also notes that Gore's proposal fails to "address the system's looming financial collapse," while Bush "wants to fix it." However, she adds, "Many old folks ... aren't crazy about the idea of change." According to Peyser, Gore has capitalized on this fear, "scoring points against Bush in the health battle because he understands -- and is willing to exploit -- the depth of seniors' mistrust." She concludes, "Should [Gore] win, we can only hope Medicare is solvent when [seniors'] grandchildren need it" (New York Post, 10/26). Don't Mess with Texas While Gore has criticized Bush's health care record in Texas, Marc Levin argues in a New York Daily News opinion piece that the vice president's "tactic may not work this year." Levin, the vice chair of the Young Conservatives of Texas, calls Gore's charge that Texas ranks "48th in per-capita funding for public health ... misleading," citing the $1.8 billion the state allocated for health initiatives last year. In addition, he notes that "disparities" in Texas' level of health insurance compared with other states probably result more from demographic differences than a "lack of concern for children," adding that even Texas children without insurance receive guaranteed emergency room care. Levin also points out that Bush signed a law forcing HMOs to cover child immunizations and approved CHIP in 1999. While Gore has attempted to "demonize" Bush for "not caring about the disadvantaged," Levin concludes that the Texas governor's record indicates otherwise (Levin, New York Daily News, 10/26). Lone Star 'Disaster' In an opposing New York Daily News column, Dr. Irwin Redlener argues that Gore's attacks on Bush's "abysmal" health care record are "on the right track," adding that Texas remains a "disaster area" for children's health. Redlener, a New York pediatrician, adds that Bush's "consistent" efforts to block Texas children's access to health care has "undermined their education." Noting that "[y]ou can't properly educate a sick child," Redlener contends that many children suffering from asthma, ear infections, anemia, psychological problems and developmental disorders do not receive "appropriate" medical care under Texas' "lag[ging]" health system. He also blames Bush for "personally fight[ing] to undermine implementation of [CHIP] in his own state." He adds that Texas may lose $450 million in federal funding because of underenrollment in the program. On health care for children, Redlener concludes, "George W. Bush has failed" (Redlener, New York Daily News, 10/26).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.