Medicare Premiums Could

Rise 12% to $66 a Month

Medicare beneficiaries could see their monthly premiums in 2004 rise by 12.3 percent, or $86.40 over the full year, in what would be the largest increase in recent years in the health insurance program for the elderly.

Medicare's chief actuary is estimating the monthly premium will go up by $7.20, from $58.70 to $65.90. Richard Foster said yesterday that spending has grown quickly, citing increases in doctors' services, wheelchairs and other items.

He said officials will set the 2004 premium later this year after reviewing spending. The premium is calculated by a complex formula that looks in part at spending for the previous year. The monthly premium was $54 in 2002, $50 in 2001 and $45.50 the two previous years.

Democrats, Republicans

Wrangle Over Amber Alert

House Democrats yesterday lost a last-ditch attempt to push the Senate's popular Amber Alert legislation directly to the president. The Republican majority instead readied for consideration a broader package of child-protection measures that includes the national child kidnapping notification network legislation.

The House plans to consider the GOP package today, after defeating, 219 to 198, Democratic attempts to bring the Senate legislation up for consideration. That version contains only the kidnapping notification network, known as Amber Alert.

The Senate version would create a national child kidnapping notification network and provide matching grants to states and communities for equipment and training. The House alternative would also deny pretrial release for child rapists and abductors; eliminate the statute of limitations on child abductions and sex crimes; allow judges to extend to life the supervised term of released sex offenders; and require life sentences for twice-convicted sex offenders.

Candidate Dean Apologizes

To a Democratic Opponent

Howard Dean sent a handwritten letter to a Democratic presidential primary rival, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), in which he apologizes for saying that Edwards avoided talking about his support of the Iraqi conflict before a largely antiwar audience.

During a speech to California Democrats earlier this month, Dean criticized Edwards and Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) for backing the war. He said the two, who voted last fall for a congressional resolution authorizing force, did not stand by their positions when they addressed the same group.

But Edwards, who spoke to the California audience before Dean did, had pledged support for disarming Iraq by force and was booed and jeered by many in the crowd. Dean said he had not heard Edwards's speech and was unaware of what the North Carolina senator had said when he criticized him.

"I thought it did take a lot of guts for him to get up in front of the convention and say what he said, and I commend him for that," the former Vermont governor said yesterday. He said he mailed a letter of apology to Edwards during a campaign stop in Iowa on Sunday.

Compiled from the Associated Press