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Gore Delivers Medicare Address in Tallahassee, Florida

Aired August 28, 2000 - 1:45 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Vice President Al Gore has begun speaking at Florida State University. His prescription drug plan is the topic. Let's listen in.


VICE PRES. AL GORE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... over the next four years that maybe we didn't have a chance to do before.

Now, the last eight years have been good for the country. I won't go through all the statistics, but we've turned the biggest deficits into the biggest surpluses, and instead of a triple dip recession, we have seen a tripling of the stock market. Instead of high unemployment, we have got 22 million new jobs and the strongest economy in the 224-year history of the United States of America. That's progress. And we need to keep that going.

But this election is not an award for past performance, and I am not asking you to support me on the basis of the economy we have, but I'm asking your support on the basis of the better, fairer, stronger economy that together we can create over the next four years. And with your help, we're going to do just that.

Now the prosperity. The prosperity that we're enjoying today is not good enough. I feel like I want to start by saying you ain't seen nothing yet. We need to do better and we can do better. And we need to given a lot of thought over the next 10 weeks or so to what we want to use the surplus for; what we want to use the prosperity for. One of the things I think is so important is to continue fiscal responsibility, balance the budget, and pay down the debt so that our children and grandchildren are not burdened with the debts from the past or ours.

But even as we do that, we're going to have a surplus left over, if we handle this economy correctly. So what should we be thinking about? I think we should invest in people: education, health care, clean up the environment, continue reducing crime.

All this week, I'm going to be talking about health care, and today, specifically, I want to talk to you about prescription drug costs. Because people on fixed incomes in this country are having an extremely difficult time paying for their prescription medicine.

The good news is that over the last 20 years or so, there have been so many advances in science that a lot of new medications have been invented and they can alleviate pain and suffering and cure diseases in ways that weren't possible before. That's great news.

But as is so often the case with new advances, when the good news comes there is bad news along with it. How do we adapt to these changes? And in this case specifically, how do we help people on fixed incomes afford these new miracle medicines that the doctors are prescribing for them.

Now, I have responded to this challenging by laying out, in the course of my campaign, a specific prescription drug benefit under the Medicare program. I believe it is time to say to every senior in this country: We have come to the point when we can improve Medicare by giving a prescription drug benefit to every single senior in this country, so that the prescription medicines can be afforded and purchased.

And, now, a campaign is also a contest, and I invite you to look at what is said on the other side. And I'll let them speak for themselves. I'm not going to say a single negative personal thing about my opponents. You will not hear that from me in this entire campaign.

I do invite you to compare and contrast the plans that we put forward. Because the real question here is not what's good for me, or what's good for my opponent, it's what's good for you. It's all you, it's about the future of our country. And you deserve a detailed, adult, intelligent discussion of exactly what the specifics are of the plans that we are proposing.

And I -- when the other side gets around to proposing a specific plan, then we can compare it and contrast it. But I want to spend my time talking about my plan. Here's how it would work.

For low income seniors, who make less than $12,000 a year, who get that much in income or less, all of your prescription drug benefit will be covered and the premiums will also be covered up to an amount of $5,000. And then, when it gets up to total expense of $4,000 for the individual's part of it, then everything above that will be covered.

For those who have annual incomes of more than $12,000, it will be 50 percent of the cost will be covered by Medicare up to $5,000 worth per year.

And then, if you're one of the ones that are not too big a percentage of seniors whose individual expenses are more than $4,000 a year. Everything above that will be covered.

Now, that contrasts with a plan that the other side has pointed to that says that only low income seniors would be covered, and then they would get a subsidy that they could take to insurance companies and attempt to buy an insurance company plan that would cover prescription drugs.

But the insurance companies have said they will not offer such plans, and they've said that approach will not work. So don't take it from me, go check it out. It's -- you can look on the World Wide Web, if you have the Internet at and other places, too.

Now, let me give you specific examples of what is happening. We just came from the Baker Pharmacy, and Dr. Baker is here, somewhere, thank you, sir. It's a family-owned pharmacy, and your customers just brag on you so much, and we learned a lot over there.

And one of the -- one of the seniors that was there getting her prescriptions filled was Myrtle Jennings (ph), who is with us right here in the front row. And appreciate you coming, Mrs. Jennings. And she gets about -- well, she was handed her prescription for the month while we were there, and, of course, they worked that out in advance, it came out to about $207 per month as I recall.

And that's fairly common these days, some have more, some have less, some have a lot more, but it's not at all unusual for -- is it, doctor? That is very, very common.

Now a lot of times, if a senior is on fixed incomes -- on a fixed income, that person will have to choose between paying for the prescription medicine and paying for food, or paying for rent.

I talked with a woman in St. Louis, who I invited to the Democratic convention incidentally, who told me of the bills she had that caused her to scrimp and save for food, and she would go to a wholesale food store and wait until she could buy macaroni and cheese in bulk and then have it every meal. She told me she is pretty tired of eating macaroni and cheese, and she shouldn't have to.

Here's what Miss Jennings told me this morning, and bet you there are some other people like this. In fact, I know there are. For her, it is not so much a choice between prescription medicine and food and shelter, as it is between some prescription medicines and other prescription medicines.

I talked to some others who say they take their medicines out of the cabinet and put them out on the kitchen table, and then they go through them one by one and count the pills and count the pennies, and some of them will cut back the dosage compared to what the doctor recommends. Others will take some of the medications and cut them out entirely.

In Miss Jennings' case, here's what she does. She has got medications for her heart, and for blood pressure, and for pain that's caused by arthritis, pain in her spine. She told Tipper and me that she's worried about the -- about not taking the heart medication because she thinks that it's real serious that she needs to keep taking that. Similarly, with the blood pressure medication, she believes it's real serious for her to keep taking that. So what does she do? She cuts out the pain medication.

Now, understand what this means. Mrs. Jennings is 82 years old, has four children, she lost her husband earlier this year. She is now placed in a situation where she has to -- she feels like she has to cut out that pain medication. That is just wrong, that's just wrong. And how many millions of seniors are there now, who are making choices like that, or like the woman who goes to the wholesale foods store or the others who don't want to be a burden on their children, but call up and have no choice but to forfeit their strong desire for independence.

Let me tell you. Medicare was such a great blessing when it was enacted. I'll fight to defend it. We'll talk about that more.

WATERS: Vice President Al Gore hitting what he considers a winning issue with senior citizens in Tallahassee, Florida. There are 39 million senior citizens in the United States. They vote in great numbers. Al Gore thinks he has a winner here with what he calls a specific, with emphasis on the word "specific," prescription drug plan.

And he's inviting senior citizens across the country to compare his specific plan with the Republican prescription drug plan, which even the Bush campaign acknowledged over the weekend is not yet specific.

The vice president's plan, if you make less than $12,000 a year, total coverage up to $5,000 for prescription drugs; more than $12,000, 50 percent coverage up to $5,000 a year.

We'll be hearing much more about this. As Vice President Gore said, he'll be spending all this week on health care, as the Democratic campaign gets into high gear.



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