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Nation in brief

Bush launches push for Medicare drug cards

By wire services
Published June 15, 2004

LIBERTY, Mo. - President Bush stepped Monday into the controversy over the first part of the new Medicare law that has gone into effect, acknowledging that "we've got some problems" with the drug discount cards that became available two weeks ago.

With an unexpectedly small number of older Americans signing up for the cards and Democrats working to fan opposition to the law, Bush said that some Medicare patients are shying away because they consider it too complicated. Still, he delivered a strong defense - which included accompanying a 74-year-old woman to a local pharmacy where she used her new card to save $17 on her blood pressure medicine.

"This discount card is going to save our seniors a lot of money," Bush said.

His remarks in this Kansas City suburb marked the first time he has devoted a trip to promoting the discount cards, a temporary approach intended to help people on Medicare buy medicine less expensively. The cards do not provide government subsidies; instead, they allow people in the health insurance program for the elderly and disabled to buy one of 73 privately administered cards, approved by the government, that confer lower prices at drugstores or mail order pharmacies.

Bush and other Republicans are eager to tout the cards as evidence they are helping older Americans, even though it will be two years until the start of the drug benefit that is the centerpiece of the Medicare law passed in November by a divided Congress.

Democrats are working just as hard to discredit the cards and blunt the GOP's ability to take credit for updating Medicare. Hours before Bush spoke, Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign issued a stinging critique of the program, saying it often will leave older Americans paying higher prices for prescriptions they already can obtain through other pharmaceutical discounts. Kerry renewed his call for two strategies to try to lower drug prices that the new law prohibits: allowing the government to negotiate discounts directly with pharmaceutical companies and making it legal for people of all ages to import U.S.-manufactured drugs from Canada and other countries where they're sold at lower prices.

Bush reiterated that he was willing to expand an enormous federal entitlement only by relying on private health plans and companies that manage benefits. "One of the things I believe is that markets have got a fantastic way of rewarding people with better quality and better price," he said.

Soldier's attorney: Army looking into beating case

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The Army has opened a criminal investigation into injuries suffered by a soldier who was posing as an uncooperative detainee during training with military police at Guantanamo Bay, the soldier's attorney said Monday.

Sean Baker, who was a specialist in a military police unit, suffers from seizures he blames on a head injury from the training session in January 2003 at the base in Cuba. He received a medical discharge in April and returned home to Georgetown in central Kentucky.

Officials at the Pentagon and at Southern Command in Miami would not confirm whether any investigation was under way.

Baker posed as an uncooperative detainee during the training exercise with the Michigan-based 303rd Military Police Company. He has said military police officers beat and choked him and slammed his head against the floor at the detention center, where the U.S. government holds suspected terrorists.

9/11 victims' fund due to finish awards program

WASHINGTON - Officials overseeing the fund set up to settle victims' claims from the Sept. 11 attacks will make their final decisions today for awarding money to those injured or killed.

The program created by Congress had authorized $5.9-billion in payments as of Monday afternoon, ranging from $500 to $8.6-million per claim.

Fund administrators have determined awards for 2,454 out of 2,963 death claims, and 2,449 injury claims out of about 4,400. The vast majority of injury claims are for lung-related ailments from those who worked in rescue and recovery operations at the World Trade Center site.

Close to 2,000 injury claims are expected to be rejected or withdrawn due to insufficient medical proof of injuries.

White House stem cell position doesn't budge

WASHINGTON - The White House rejected calls Monday from Ronald Reagan's family and others to relax President Bush's restrictions on stem cell research in pursuit of potential cures for illnesses.

Bush signed an executive order in August 2001 that limited federal help to financing stem cell research on 78 embryonic stem cell lines then in existence. Because day-old embryos are destroyed when stem cells are extracted, the process is opposed by some conservatives who link it to abortion.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush continues to believe his policy is the right one.

"The president came up with a policy that will allow us to explore the promise of stem cell research, and do so in a way that doesn't cross a certain moral threshold that he set," McClellan said. "And I think he articulated his reasons for arriving at that decision. And that is his position, and that remains his position."

[Last modified June 15, 2004, 01:00:24]

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