Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Kerry Says Washington Hides Medicare's Cost to People

NY Times
September 15, 2004
Kerry Says Washington Hides Medicare's Cost to People

TOLEDO, Ohio, Sept. 14 - Senator John Kerry ratcheted up his character-based critique of President Bush on Tuesday, turning health-care forums here and in Milwaukee into attacks on his opponent's honesty.

Mr. Kerry accused the Bush administration of manipulating reports to obscure the fact that Medicare premiums will eat up 37 percent of the average person's Social Security income by 2006.

"They hide the truth about Iraq, they hide the truth about No Child Left Behind, they hide the truth about what's happening in Medicare," Mr. Kerry, the Democratic nominee, told a union-heavy crowd here in the northwestern corner of one of the most contested states. "It's time we had a president who tells the American people the truth."

In Milwaukee, at a center for the elderly, Mr. Kerry used blowups from the annual trustees' report on Medicare and Social Security to show how a table that projected the percentage of Social Security income that the average person would spend on Medicare had been replaced this year with a line graph with a different bottom line.

"They're playing games with the American people again," he declared. "They hid it from you. They didn't want you to know what the costs were. Once again, this administration hides the truth from the American people."

The policy director for Mr. Bush's campaign, Tim Adams, called the attack baseless, saying the Treasury Department had prepared the pamphlets without consulting the White House. Mr. Adams said the table had been replaced with the line graph to illustrate costs and benefits better.

"By and large,'' Mr. Adams added, "what the chart shows is that, yes, costs are going up. They've been going up since the 1970's, but benefits are going up, too. When you compare the costs over time with the benefits received, seniors are better off, because the benefits exceed the costs."

Medicare has grown as a focus in the presidential race after an announcement 10 days ago that premiums would jump 17 percent next year, as each side tries to win over older people, who are among the most reliable voters.

Mr. Kerry has frequently criticized Mr. Bush for the Medicare overhaul that he pushed last year, saying its prescription drug benefit is better for the insurance and pharmaceutical industries than for elderly beneficiaries. The Bush campaign has started using a television advertisement on the broader issue of health care, declaring that the president's plan was to "stop frivolous lawsuits" and help small businesses band together for lower rates, while Mr. Kerry and his fellow Democrats want a "government-run health care program" with a $1.5 trillion price tag.

Mr. Kerry said here that he had learned the lessons of President Bill Clinton's failed effort in the early 1990's to establish universal health insurance. He said his plan "is not a government plan," but one that would reduce costs and expand access through tax credits and options for businesses and governments to enroll in federal programs.

Mr. Kerry's emphasis on "truth," a word he repeated often in both talks, is part of the effort of his new communications team to clarify his case.

On Tuesday, Michael D. McCurry, a former White House press secretary, became the third Clinton veteran to join the campaign full time in recent weeks. He plans to travel with Mr. Kerry for the remainder of the campaign, beginning on Thursday at a major speech to the National Guard convention in Las Vegas.

As Mr. Kerry and the party hammered Mr. Bush, his running mate, Senator John Edwards, accused the president of withholding details on his proposed spending, comparing him to Kenneth L. Lay, the disgraced former Enron chairman.

"He's making proposals that are in the trillions of dollars in costs for which he has no idea how he is going to pay for," Mr. Edwards told an audience in Oregon City, Ore., "I think he believes that he's Ken Lay and America is his Enron."

Aides to Mr. Edwards said he was reacting to a report in The Washington Post that put the cost of proposals that Mr. Bush laid out at the Republican National Convention at $3 trillion, compared with the $2 trillion that the administration has said Mr. Kerry's proposals would cost.

The Post said the administration had not publicly accounted for some costs, but Mr. Bush's campaign said most of the money was accounted for in his budget proposal in February.

Mr. Edwards's use of Mr. Lay reflected his stepped-up attacks on the administration in the past two weeks. His standard campaign speech is now chock full of references to Halliburton, the energy company Vice President Cheney once headed, and accusations it overcharged the military on contracts related to the Iraq reconstruction.