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CAMPAIGN 2000

Gore, Lieberman Stress Prescription Costs

Campaign: As vice president spotlights four Florida seniors who can't afford all their drugs, Bush pledges to reveal his own aid plan next week.

August 29, 2000|JAMES GERSTENZANG and MATEA GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Democratic ticket of Al Gore and Joseph I. Lieberman pressed its plan to add prescription drug benefits to Medicare in separate appearances Monday that appealed to seniors and attacked the Republicans.

Gore, the Democratic nominee for president, appeared with elderly voters here in Florida where he spotlighted four seniors who told wrenching stories about the difficulty of paying for medications they need.

The vice president noted that drugs offered by veterinarians are sometimes cheaper than the same medication sold for people--and some elderly take advantage of this, seeking drugs from vets.

"That's pretty bad when you've got to pretend to be a dog or a cat to get a price break," he said.

Lieberman, speaking in Chicago, issued his most extensive criticism of the Republican ticket to date, accusing GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush and running mate Richard Cheney of misleading the public by claiming they have a better plan than the Democrats to help seniors pay for prescription drugs. Bush is to announce details of his prescription drug plan next week.

Lieberman Criticizes GOP Television Ad

In a gentle but chiding tone, Lieberman, a senator from Connecticut, criticized the GOP ticket for broadcasting a television ad this week attacking Gore's 10-year $253-billion prescription drug proposal.

"They're actually spending more money on political prescription drug advertising than they are on their prescription drug plan," he said, speaking to union members and other supporters gathered at the Plumbers Hall in Chicago. "Take those ads off the air and put your plan on the table."

Monday's events continued an effort by the Democrats to focus on health care--an issue on which they sense an advantage. The topic is highlighted in a series of new television ads launched recently by the Bush campaign as well as both of the major parties.

The attention on health care once again prevented the Republican campaign from focusing on its daily goals Monday. Bush called a news conference in Austin to swing attention back to education issues. He introduced a grass-roots coalition called "Educators for Bush," and he charged that Gore has presided over a "national tragedy" in America's schools.

But, peppered by questions about prescription drug benefits for seniors, the Texas governor finally acknowledged that he would announce the details of his plan next week during a Labor Day campaign swing.

Bush has said in the past that he supports a bipartisan congressional plan to reform Medicare as a framework to provide prescription drug coverage to seniors.

But he said for the first time Monday that--if he were president--he would sign the legislation by Sen. John B. Breaux (D-La.) and Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). It allows seniors to choose between competing private health plans--some of which would include prescription drug benefits--by helping pay for part of the coverage.

"If it were Breaux-Frist or nothing, I would sign it," Bush said. "But I think we can make it even better. One idea is to make sure that low-income seniors are better helped in paying for prescription drugs."

Although Bush has yet to flesh out a prescription drug plan, his communications director, Karen Hughes, said Monday that he "has talked about this since almost day one of his campaign. . . . This [Clinton-Gore] administration has talked about it for seven years and nothing's been done."

The health care debate also dominated the presidential race on Sunday, when Cheney said during a series of talk show interviews that the GOP plan on prescription drug coverage would be released soon.

On Monday, Lieberman seized on the admission that the Republican plan was still a work in progress.

"Just yesterday, Dick Cheney admitted what we have been saying all along: Our opponents don't have a real prescription drug plan," he said. "To the extent that they have a plan, my friends, with all respect, it is a bad plan that would leave at least half of all seniors with no real coverage."

While Lieberman lashed out in the Midwest, Gore attempted to put human faces to the toll of mounting drug costs.

With his wife, Tipper, at his side here in Tallahassee, Gore shared the stories of elderly Floridians, among them Laura Dixie. Dixie, 74, told those gathered at the Florida State University meeting hall that each month she picks and chooses among the drugs prescribed for her because the $200 monthly cost for all of them is too high.

"The arthritis medicine I don't bother with. I can delete that. I think I can handle the pain," she told Gore.

Even before he reached the Florida State University campus, which seemed an incongruous venue for his focus on the health problems of the elderly, the vice president made a beeline for a nearby pharmacy to illustrate his message.

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