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    Gore's backers: GOP out to scare

    Republicans, likewise, say it's the vice president's drug plan that is scaring older Floridians.

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    © St. Petersburg Times, published September 29, 2000

    The cover of a color pamphlet arriving in thousands of mailboxes this week around Tampa Bay and elsewhere in Florida features an elderly person's hands wrapped around a prescription drug bottle and the headline: "Open Al Gore's proposal, and you'll find . . ."

    Open the brochure for the answer: "Two bitter pills to swallow."

    Paid for by the Florida Republican Party, the mailing repeats some of George W. Bush's favorite lines about Gore's proposal for prescription drug coverage for seniors.

    While Republicans say the criticisms are factual, Democrats complained Thursday that the claims are inaccurate. They said Bush's charge that Gore would force seniors into "a government-run drug HMO" are wrong and designed to frighten older Floridians.

    "Bush is playing politics with seniors' health," David Kessler, former head of the Food and Drug Administration and a Gore supporter, said in an interview. "He is scaring thousands of seniors with misleading "mediscare' tactics while the truth is Bush just opposes Medicare."

    Republicans say the vice president, not the Texas governor, is responsible for scaring seniors.

    "We will press our case on the centralized, one-size-fits-all Gore plan," said Tucker Eskew, a spokesman for the Bush campaign.

    The GOP mailing underscores the importance of Florida's older voters in deciding who wins the state's 25 electoral votes.

    The Republican brochure also is an element of a multi-layered effort to drive home attacks on Gore's proposals for prescription drug coverage.

    The Texas governor delivered the message himself in appearances at two large Tampa Bay retirement complexes, Clearwater's Top of the World on Sept. 11 and at Hillsborough's Sun City Center on Sept. 22.

    At the same time, a Republican Party television ad for Bush ran in the Tampa Bay market and elsewhere using the same lines to criticize Gore's prescription drug plan. Then the pamphlets arrived this week in the mail. Now the message will be reinforced with telephone calls reminding voters that Gore advocates a "government-run" HMO.

    Gore's plan would add a voluntary prescription drug benefit to the existing Medicare program that would cover all seniors at a cost of $253-billion over 10 years. Premiums would start at $25 per month in 2002, with low-income seniors paying nothing or part of the premium. Half of all prescription drug costs would be paid up to $5,000 per year by 2009, and no recipient would pay more than $4,000 in annual out-of-pocket costs for drugs.

    Bush's drug benefit proposal would be voluntary and allow seniors to choose from a variety of plans offered by private insurers and HMOs. Low-income seniors would pay nothing or part of the premium, and 25 percent of the premium for drug coverage would be subsidized for everyone else. No senior would pay more than $6,000 in annual out-of-pocket costs.

    Among the Bush criticisms in television ads and the mail-out disputed by Gore:

    Bush says Gore would force seniors into a "government-run HMO." Gore's plan does not force seniors to accept a prescription drug benefit, and Medicare recipients still could choose their own doctors. Gore would call on private benefit managers to oversee the program, just as private insurers do, and would require all medically necessary prescriptions to be covered.

    Bush says Gore would force seniors to pay a "new $600 per year access fee" for drugs. In fact, $600 refers to the yearly total of monthly premiums seniors would pay eight years after the plan took effect. There is no comparable figure for the Bush proposal.

    Bush says Gore would give seniors "one chance" to select the prescription drug benefit at age 641/2 while his plan would enable seniors to get the benefit at any time. The Gore plan does require a choice to be made at that age, just as seniors choose now whether to take Medicare Part B.

    Gore campaign officials say the prescription drug benefit would work just like insurance, where recipients pay now for coverage they may not need until later. They say Bush's choice plan would wind up costing more, because people likely would not choose a prescription drug benefit until they were sick.

    Republicans counter that Gore has misled voters about Bush's plan by bashing HMOs. They said the vice president also is wrong when he says Medicare recipients would have to go to welfare offices to take advantage of prescription drug benefits under the Texas governor's proposal.

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    Lucy Morgan

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