Bush faults Kerry health care plan in attack opponent calls misleading

Democrat's campaign denies president's claims of `nationalization'

September 17, 2004|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

BLAINE, Minn. - President Bush stepped up his attack on Sen. John F. Kerry's health care proposals yesterday, accusing the Democratic presidential nominee of seeking to expand the federal government's power by controlling the country's health care system - something Kerry says he's not proposing at all.

"The nationalization of health care would be wrong for the American people," Bush said during a campaign event in southeastern Minnesota.

He said Kerry's plan would cost too much and would drive many employers to drop health insurance for their employees, causing many to end up on Medicaid. His own approach, he said, would help people buy their own health insurance, would cost taxpayers far less and would reduce the ranks of the uninsured.

The Kerry camp, campaigning in Las Vegas, responded immediately, accusing the president of lying about the Massachusetts senator's plan in an effort to scare and mislead voters.

Kerry's health plan relies on tax incentives to businesses and individuals and would pay for most catastrophic costs in an effort to reduce insurance premiums. It would use the existing employer-based insurance system, and would cost taxpayers an estimated $650 billion over 10 years.

"We believe the Bush campaign's decision to attack John Kerry [on health care] is a costly mistake," said Tad Devine, a Kerry campaign strategist. "His effort to attack John Kerry is designed to mislead voters, not inform them."

Bush described the difference between his own health proposals and Kerry's as a contrast between expanding opportunity for individuals and expanding the role of government.

"I have a common-sense, practical plan to make high-quality health care more affordable and more accessible," Bush said during a rally in St. Cloud. "My opponent wants government to dictate; I want you to decide when it comes to health care."

The president says he would expand health insurance coverage for more Americans by encouraging the use of health savings accounts - tax-free savings that can be used for medical expenses - and by allowing small businesses to pool resources to buy insurance at discount rates as large companies do. He also has proposed a tax credit to help poor people purchase health coverage.

Bush's plan would cost an estimated $156 billion over 10 years.

In addition, the president wants to overhaul the medical-liability system to limit jury awards for malpractice, which he says drive up insurance premiums for doctors and add to escalating health care costs.

Under Kerry's plan, the federal government would underwrite 75 percent of the cost of catastrophic health care coverage provided by employers. Kerry also has proposed a "patients' bill of rights" to empower people in their dealings with health maintenance organizations and other managed-care programs.

Kerry campaign officials, citing an independent study, say his plan would cost about $650 billion over 10 years and would be funded by eliminating the 2001 tax cut for people with annual incomes of more than $200,000.

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