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Gore Gets Specific on Medicare Contrasts


WASHINGTON — Vice President Al Gore renewed his criticism Sunday of Texas Gov. George W. Bush's Medicare proposals, at the start of a week in which the Democratic presidential campaign intends to draw new contrasts with the Republicans over the health plan for the elderly and disabled.

Demonstrating the intersection of policy and politics, Gore plans to make public during a visit to St. Petersburg, Fla., this afternoon what he said would be a detailed book laying out, in greater specificity, the proposals he has already made to preserve Medicare.

In a conference call with reporters, Gore said from his Washington residence that he saw "real differences" with Bush over Medicare, which he called "one of the most crucial issues in the election."

Specifically, he said that Bush's plan "would force many seniors to go to welfare offices to sign up" for Medicare programs run jointly with the states.

Both campaigns have argued that the other's proposals would leave Medicare recipients with limited choices and force them into health maintenance organizations.

Under Bush's plan, the assistance for low-income people and the coverage for catastrophic illnesses would be administered by the states.

Gore plans to present his program at a meeting this afternoon with elderly people in a state that is crucial to both his and Bush's election strategies, and where older voters play a central role. Florida has the fourth-highest number of electoral votes--25--and it takes 270 to win the White House.

About 2.8 million people in Florida receive Medicare, and about 18% of the population is at least 65 years old, a greater segment in that age group than in any other state, according to the Gore campaign.

With the two candidates closely matched in public opinion polls in Florida and nationwide, both camps have tried to tout their proposals to keep the health care program strong in the face of new demands posed by the approaching retirement of the baby boom generation.

Gore has already promised to take Medicare funding out of the regular government budget process, adding a prescription drug benefit for all seniors on Medicare that would make name-brand, as well as generic, pharmaceuticals available, and expanding the choices Medicare recipients have in obtaining health care services.

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