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Bush Applies 'Real' Effort to Health Care for Seniors

Politics: GOP candidate discusses Medicare in Florida as part of new push to meet everyday people.


ORLANDO, Fla. — Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush touted his health care proposals to cancer patients Tuesday in his latest effort to show he has "real plans for real people."

Bush met Kay Talton, who has ovarian cancer, and her husband, Jack, who has malignant melanoma, at Florida Hospital's Walt Disney Memorial Cancer Institute. The couple told him they fear their medical coverage will soon run out.

"With him having cancer and I'm having it, do you think another insurance company's going to take us on?" Kay Talton asked him.

Bush nodded. "No," he said.

"I don't think so," she went on. "So I'm depending on you to help us out."

Bush told them they'd benefit from his $198-billion plan to overhaul Medicare and provide some prescription drug coverage to the elderly. Specifically, he cited his plan to offer seniors full catastrophic-illness coverage after their first $6,000 in drug expenses.

Bush's encounter with the Taltons was part of a campaign restyling that he launched last week after fellow Republicans voiced concerns about his dip in the polls. Bush said he will appear more often with "real people" to show how his proposals would help them.

The effort was sidetracked Tuesday, however, by a Republican Party television ad that flashes the word "rats" during an attack on Bush's Democratic opponent, Vice President Al Gore.

The ad flashes words, and portions of words, on the screen. The "rats," which appears for a split second, comes from "bureaucrats." At the Orlando airport, reporters showered him with questions about the ad.

"I want to make it clear to people that the idea of putting subliminal messages in ads, it's ridiculous," he said. "We need to be debating the issues."

At the Disney cancer ward, Bush joined the Taltons and three doctors in a room decorated like the set of a television talk show.

Neil Finkler, a gynecologic oncologist, told Bush that Medicare had mushroomed into an "incredibly cumbersome system," forcing doctors to "jump through hoops."

Bush responded by saying Medicare must be overhauled.

"I repeat to America--and I hope folks are listening--that a Medicare system that relies upon the current Medicare system is really not going to meet the needs of the elderly," he said.

Bush also charged that Gore's plan for providing prescription drugs to seniors would create a giant "government-run HMO."

"We need to trust seniors to make choices in their life," he said. "We cannot have the government run the health care system. I strongly believe that is one of the differences of opinion I have with my opponent."

Bush also said the health care reforms proposed early in the Clinton administration "would have been a disaster."

Gore spokeswoman Kym Spell said it is "absolutely false" that the vice president's $253-billion plan to add prescription drug coverage to Medicare would create a state-run health maintenance organization.

"Mr. Bush is unfortunately confused again," she said. "Our proposal is voluntary. It allows people to access prescription drug coverage whether they are in traditional Medicare, managed care or a retiree health plan."

The rats ad was not the only odd twist in Bush's day on the trail. He also responded to a story in Vanity Fair magazine that says his tendency to get tongue-tied could be a sign of dyslexia.

"I appreciate the diagnosis," he joked. "It's amazing what happens when you run for president. I didn't realize I had dyslexia until the article came out."

Bush campaigned later in St. Louis, where he fielded questions from some of the 800 supporters invited by his campaign to a theater-in-the-round forum.

Bush reminded them he had "real plans for real people"--his new campaign slogan--and listed a number of them, including tax cuts and a military buildup.

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