DOWNINGTOWN, Pa., Oct. 21 -- President Bush and Democrat John F. Kerry vied for advantage Thursday on the closely watched issue of health care, with the challenger demanding an end to Bush's restrictions on federal embryonic stem cell research and the president calling for new restrictions on medical malpractice awards.
As they delivered their dueling themes in adjacent battleground states -- Kerry in Ohio and Bush here in Pennsylvania -- the two gave decidedly different views of the American health care system and proposals for fixing it. Kerry emphasized the growing number of uninsured Americans during Bush's presidency, and Bush said Kerry would push the nation toward government-run health care.
President Bush told a crowd of 20,000 in Hershey, Pa., that his administration "made a good start" in improving health care.
(Michael Robinson-chavez -- The Washington Post)
Here are selected provisions of the candidates' health care plans:
Would cap noneconomic medical malpractice awards at $250,000.
Would establish a $1,000 tax credit for individuals ($3,000 for families) to purchase health insurance.
Would expand tax deductions for health savings accounts -- medical funds controlled by the individual -- which are usually combined with high-deductible catastrophic insurance.
Would allow legal importation of prescription drugs from other countries, such as Canada, and permit federal health officials to negotiate for bulk drug prices.
Would open Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program to millions more low-income children and adults.
Would reimburse employers for as much as 75 percent of "catastrophic" cases -- exceeding $30,000 initially -- if the company offers insurance to all workers and develops a wellness program.
"Senator Kerry's idea of reform always involves bigger and more intrusive government, and his health care proposal proves my point," he said to boos from an invited audience of about 2,000 supporters at a recreation center here in eastern Pennsylvania. Bush said Kerry's plan "would be the largest expansion of government health care in American history."
Kerry, appearing with Dana Reeve, the widow of paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve, accused the president of thwarting scientific research and taking away hope of finding cures through stem cell research. "George Bush has literally . . . turned his back on the spirit of exploration and discovery," Kerry said in Columbus. "We now have a president who is so beholden to special interests that he refuses to make the kinds of investments that benefit our common interests."
With 12 days until the election, neither candidate volunteered new proposals. But their speeches on health-related issues continued a pattern this week in which the two have engaged in long-distance fights on similar issues: first terrorism, then domestic matters, Iraq and now health care. Although much of the campaign's sound and fury has been devoted to matters of national security, the Bush and Kerry policies on those issues are more similar than they are on health care, where the differences are vast.
Polls give Kerry an advantage on health issues, and Bush has not kept his 2000 campaign promise to reduce the number of uninsured Americans. The ranks of uninsured increased by 5 million people during his tenure.
Bush, who spoke here before addressing a crowd of 20,000 in Hershey, Pa., said his administration "made a good start" in improving health care. He contrasted his proposals -- health savings accounts, insurance pools for small businesses, malpractice limits and tax credits -- with Kerry's more ambitious, and costly, plan. "When it comes to health care, Senator Kerry's prescription is bigger government with higher costs," Bush said. "My reforms will lower costs and give more control and choices to the American people."
Bush gave particular emphasis to limits on medical malpractice awards. "The quality of life is deteriorating because of these lawsuits," he said, vowing that "in a new term, we'll pass real caps on noneconomic damages."
Bush said he had pledged to double the budget of the National Institutes of Health, and "I kept my word." Actually, former senator Connie Mack (R-Fla.) led the effort during the Clinton administration to double the NIH budget within five years. NIH spending is now $27.9 billion, and Bush proposes $28.6 billion for fiscal 2005.
The president said Kerry's health plan would add 22 million people to the "government health care rolls," and he cited the National Association of Wholesalers' description of the Kerry plan as an "overpriced albatross" that would impose many new regulations on small businesses. "The Kerry plan would move America down the road toward federal control of health care, which would lead to lower quality and health care rationing," he said.
Kerry proposes expanding coverage to about 27 million more Americans by broadening access to private plans and by expanding Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program.
In his speech, one of the last he will make before heading into coast-to-coast rallies, Kerry drew a connection between scientific research and jobs, telling his audience that federal expenditures on research are the "best jobs program America has ever had." But the president, he charged, "has been so obsessed with cutting taxes for the wealthy that our investments in creating those jobs are dying on the vine."
"You get the feeling that if George Bush had been president during other periods in American history, he would have sided with the candle lobby against electricity, the buggy-makers against cars, and typewriter companies against computers," Kerry said to laughter.
Dana Reeve received a warm welcome as she spoke, in her first appearance since her husband died 11 days ago. Christopher Reeve was paralyzed nine years ago in horseback riding accident, and spent his final years aggressively seeking a cure for spinal-cord injuries. His wife said she approached the campaign because she knew it was what her husband would have wanted, and explained that being an advocate for Kerry and stem cell research would help her in her grief. "He joined the majority of Americans in believing the promise of embryonic stem cell research," she said to much applause.