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CAMPAIGN 2000

Gore Calls for Quality Medical Care in HMO Coverage for Women

Democrats: The vice president vows to push for legislation that will require health plans to cover breast cancer treatments and second opinions.

September 19, 2000|EDWIN CHEN and DANA CALVO | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

LAS VEGAS — Vice President Al Gore on Monday endorsed new protections for women who receive medical care through health maintenance organizations, vowing to push for legislation pending in Congress that requires HMOs to cover recommended breast cancer treatments, minimum hospital stays for breast cancer patients and second opinions on their diagnoses and treatment recommendations.

Gore also hammered at several related issues, calling on the Republican-controlled Congress once more to enact a broad patients' bill of rights for the estimated 135 million Americans who belong to HMOs or similar managed care plans.

Gore spoke Monday afternoon at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and also participated in a panel discussion on women's health issues at the university.

"I'm calling for tough new patients' rights legislation to make sure women get the best health care--not just the cheapest--by making sure women diagnosed with breast cancer can get a second opinion," Gore said.

"Let's put an end to the HMO penalties and incentives that encourage doctors and nurses to give women substandard care. That's wrong--and it ought to be against the law," he said.

The vice president said more than 75% of insured women under age 65 now are enrolled in managed care plans.

The bill that he endorsed is co-sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine).

Their measure would require HMOs to cover minimum hospital stays for breast cancer treatments such as mastectomies, lumpectomies and lymph node dissections and prohibit HMOs from offering financial incentives that might encourage medical providers to limit access to medical treatments.

Gore's continuing courtship of women is no mystery. Much of his post-convention surge past Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the polls has been fueled by fresh support from female voters.

Before leaving here for Los Angeles, Gore addressed a Teamsters conference in Las Vegas, where he formally accepted the endorsement of the 1.5-million-member union.

Then the vice president flew to Los Angeles, where he attended a multimillion-dollar fund-raiser for the Democratic National Committee at the Beverly Hills home of grocery store mogul Ron Burkle, in whose home Clinton often stays while visiting Los Angeles.

Today, Gore is scheduled to discuss his plan to ensure the privacy of consumers' medical records before heading for Silicon Valley for campaign and fund-raising events.

Gore's running mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, also focused on health care reform Monday when he was in New Mexico, a state where more than one-quarter of the residents do not have health insurance.

"Al Gore and I have the confidence to talk specifics," Lieberman told 250 supporters in the auditorium of the South Broadway Cultural Center in Albuquerque.

Standing on stage in front of a blue-and-white banner that read: "Fair Treatment; Affordable Choices; Quality Care," Lieberman said he and Gore plan to expand the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to cover every child in America by 2005. Gore has repeatedly described that goal as a first step toward health insurance coverage for all Americans.

For children who don't automatically qualify for CHIP and whose parents work for companies that do not offer health insurance, Lieberman said they should be able to buy into the CHIP program.

For older Americans, Lieberman supported an opportunity to buy into Medicare with a 25% tax credit. He also said they should have access to a plan that covers 50% of prescription drug costs, up to $5,000 a year.

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