Bush Unveils Medicare Plan

Responding to pressure from his opponent on a key campaign issue, Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush announced his plans to reform Medicare and help seniors buy prescription drugs.

Saying Medicare “must be modernized for our times,” the Texas governor unveiled his much-anticipated proposal Tuesday morning in Allentown, Pa., outlining an additional $158 billion in heath-care spending to be allocated in two phases over 10 years.

“There is something very wrong when the nation’s greatest health-care program can’t keep pace with the latest health care progress,” said Bush, while also calling Medicare “top-heavy with bureaucracy.”

He sought to link his plan to the bipartisan proposal sponsored last year by Sens. John Breaux, D-La., and Bill Frist, R-Tenn. Bush’s Democratic opponent, Vice President Al Gore, has rejected that plan.

“This administration has been a roadblock to reform,” Bush said. “That is the record of the last eight years, old politics causing the same old stalemates, failed leadership and wasted opportunities.”

At a later campaign event in Scranton, Pa., Bush announced a $40 billion addition to his program to replace cuts made as a consequence of the 1997 balanced-budget agreement.

Gore responded to Bush’s proposal at the start of a campaign speech in Columbus, Ohio, saying the plan was flawed because it would not be affordable, given the $1.3 trillion tax cut Bush has proposed.

“The biggest problem is, there’s no money to pay for it, if you give away all of the surplus in the form of a giant tax cut to the wealthy at the expense of the middle class,” Gore said.

Additionally, Gore said Bush’s plan would still leave too many seniors without a Medicare prescription-drug benefit, and would force people to join health maintenance organizations.

Bush’s plan would subsidize costs of seniors enrolled in private health-care plans, while in Gore’s own proposal, all Medicare beneficiaries would be eligible for voluntary coverage.

Two-Phase Plan; One of a Few

The first phase of the Bush plan calls for $48 billion in block grants provided to states in order to provide drug coverage for seniors. The intended grants would take effect in 2001 at a rate of $12 billion a year for four years.

Under the proposal, Medicare would cover prescription drug costs on a sliding scale. People earning at or below 135 percent of the poverty level would have their full prescription drug costs covered, while those earning up to 175 percent of the poverty rate would have partial coverage. The plan would also provide full coverage for all prescription drug and catastrophic medical costs over $6,000.

The second phase of the plan calls for $110 billion over 10 years to provide for “Medicare Modernization.” It also would give Medicare recipients a choice of health plans and would cover 25 percent of the prescription drug premium for those making over 175 percent of the poverty rate.

Gore has proposed spending an estimated $253 billion over 10 years to pay for prescription drugs through Medicare, which provides benefits for elderly and disabled citizens.

In addition to the candidates’ plans, both major parties are trying to take the initiative on the issue in Washington, as Congress resumed business.

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