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Special Event

Gore Outlines His Medicare Proposal

Aired September 25, 2000 - 1:38 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Al Gore is in St. Petersburg, Florida at the Coliseum. He is speaking about his Medicare plan, which he is releasing today. The heart of his agenda, he says, is a rock-solid commitment to Medicare. Let's hear what the vice president has to say.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

VICE PRES. AL GORE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... and we have to stop that. The power should be in your hands. The choices should belong to you, your family and your doctor. The choices ought to be made by the medical professionals, not by some insurance company clerk trying to cut corners with your health care. We need a health care patients' bill of rights to give the medical decisions back to the doctors and the nurses and take them away from the HMOs.

I am running for president to fight for you, and the heart of my agenda is a rock-solid commitment to Medicare, American's guarantee for affordable health care for our parents and grandparents.

(APPLAUSE)

I will fight for it, I guarantee it. So I don't believe this election is an award for past performance. We've seen progress in the last eight years. Our opponents are wrong when they say we were a whole lot better off eight years ago than we are today. We've had progress, but this is not about past performance. I am not asking you to vote for me on the basis of the economy we have. I am asking for your support on the basis of the fairer, healthier, more prosperous America that we can create together, and that we will create together over the next four years.

(CHEERING)

Let's make sure that our prosperity enriches not just the few. but all of our families. Let's invest in education, middle class tax cut, and a secure retirement. Let's clean up the environment, including Florida's Everglades, which Bob Graham is working on today. And let's invest in health care and Medicare for our seniors today. It is needed. And today, even as a revolution in health and medicine, promises to lift the lives of millions of seniors, Medicare is threatened insolvency unless we act now.

That's why Joe Lieberman and I are releasing our full plan to protect, improve and modernize Medicare. This plan is called "Medicare at a Crossroads: The Gore-Lieberman Plan," and you can find it at Algore.com on the World Wide Web.

And I pledge to you, if I am entrusted with the presidency, we will protect Medicare for at least another 30 years, the longest period of solvency in the entire history of Medicare, and we'll improve Medicare at the same time.

(CHEERING)

We talked earlier to a woman who told us about how she and her husband had to live apart for a few years because their health care bills were so heavy each moved in to the home of a different child. Now they are back together. But they had coverage for everything except the prescription drugs.

I have talked to seniors all over America who take their pill bottles out and put them on the kitchen table and go through one by one and counting the pills and deciding to cut some medications out.

I have talked to seniors who had to choice between medicine and food.

I am telling you now is the time, in this election year of 2000, for us as a nation to make a decision that we will update and modernize Medicare, and improve Medicare, by giving a real prescription drug benefit and lifesaving preventive care to all seniors under the Medicare program, all seniors, including middle class seniors.

We will modernize Medicare by giving seniors more choices for their health care so they are never left powerless and broke. And I will never go along with any plan to raid Medicare or turn it over to the HMO bean counter shaking the foundation of health security for our seniors. I will veto any plan like that.

(CHEERING)

Instead the Gore-Lieberman plan starts by putting Medicare in an iron-clad lock box with a sign that says: Politicians, hands off. This money cannot be used for anything expect Medicare and Social Security.

(CHEERING)

Right now Medicare is running a surplus. Some see that surplus as a piggy bank they can use for a tax cuts that primarily benefits the wealthiest Americans at the expense of everyone else.

(BOOING)

My sentiments exactly.

I want to make sure that the Medicare surplus is used for only one thing: strengthening Medicare. And let me put it right on the line. I will veto the use of any money from Medicare for anything other than Medicare. That's the principle that we ought to be following.

(CHEERING)

But it is not enough to defend what is good about Medicare today. We also have to improve Medicare tomorrow. For all the progress of today's medicine, Medicare still looks a lot like a typical health plan from 1965. And back than, prescription drugs were not considered an essential part of health care.

Back then, we didn't have early screening tests for cancer and osteoporosis that could save and enhance lives. So I will fight for a prescription drug benefit for all seniors under Medicare because I believe it is just wrong for seniors to have to choose between food and medicine or between one crucial medicine and another, while the big drug companies run up record profits, far higher than the profits of any other industry in America. They should not charge seniors the highest price of any group in the world while they enjoy the highest profits of any industry in America.

We need a prescription drug benefit for all seniors under the Medicare program that is meaningful and new competition to bring down the price of prescription medicine.

I will also make sure that Medicare covers the most up to date early screening test so we can catch and even cure disease before it is too late. I will eliminate most co-payments and deductibles for important screening tests.

(CHEERING)

No senior should be priced out of tests that could save their lives and save the taxpayers' medical expenses.

And hear me well. It is time for this provision. Let's allow people between the ages of 55 and 65 to buy into Medicare.

(CHEERING)

The near-elderly have the hardest time finding health coverage. I say let them join the most successful health program in the entire history of our country.

There are lots and lots of seniors in the 55 to 65 age group who can't get health insurance anywhere else. They can't find it. They are scared, some of them. They don't know what to do. This will be a solution for them. And again, it is right here in our plan.

Now, let me be clear about one more part of my plan. It modernizes Medicare by providing real choice and real control for all seniors under Medicare. Under my Medicare plan, you get to choice your own doctor, and no HMO can take that choice away from you.

(CHEERING)

Under my prescription drug plan, if you choice to participate, you can go to your own local pharmacy and get all the medicine your doctor prescribes for you, and no big drug company or HMO can veto that choice or take it away. And we will no longer just accept the rising wave of HMOs dropping seniors, pulling out of markets, and denying seniors coverage, all to enhance their bottom line.

Here's my bottom line: Tough new penalties for any HMO that tries to exclude or drop our seniors.

(CHEERING)

Now there is a real debate in this election over the future of Medicare. And I think it is an important debate. The other side has called Medicare a government HMO. They really never have liked it. They have suggested that you shouldn't trust Medicare to provide prescription drug coverage.

Well, let me tell you, Medicare has been a lifeline for tens of millions of families. It has given millions the choice of doctors and health plans so they don't have to choice between health care and food and rent. So I will take Medicare over the real HMOs any day of the week. And I will defend it.

(CHEERING)

The other side won't. The other side seems to put a lot of trust in those HMOs. And that's simply an area where we disagree. Their plan would force seniors into HMOs, and their plan would make seniors go beg the HMOs and insurance companies for prescription drug coverage, even if the HMOs don't want to provide it.

If I am entrusted with the presidency, I will block any effort to turn Medicare over to the HMOs and the insurance companies. It will be protected. It deserves to be.

I talked about putting it into a lock box earlier. The other side doesn't make a commitment to take Medicare off-budget and put it in a lockbox, where it can't be raided by politicians.

And that's another area where we just disagree. Their plan would take as much as $360 billion from Medicare and then use more than 70 percent of that to pay for a tax cut that gives the wealthiest one percent almost half of all the benefits.

Consider this fact, their budget plan spends more on a tax cut for the wealthiest one percent in taxpayers, than their budget invests in health care, prescriptions drugs, education and national defense all combined. I think those are the wrong priorities.

(CHEERING)

There's one more area where we disagree. According to one study, in the first four years of their plan, the other side would provide prescription drug coverage not to all seniors, but to fewer than 700,000 seniors, out of 13 million who need the prescription drug coverage now.

And their plan could mean that, in some states, seniors would have to go through welfare offices to qualify. Listen, Medicare has always been a universal program. I believe seniors deserve better that a plan that leaves out millions of middle class seniors, varies in coverage from state to state, and could run seniors through welfare offices when the Gore-Lieberman plan, by contrast, avoids another layer of bureaucracy and maintains the principle of universality. If you paid into Medicare, you ought to be eligible for Medicare benefits, including the new prescription drug coverage that we are going to add to Medicare.

(CHEERING)

The generation of my parents and grandparents gave us everything that we have today. This is the generation that survived the Great Depression, won World War II, and made this country what it is today.

WATERS: Al Gore offering his plan to protect Medicare, take the entire surplus, put it in a lockbox, tell politicians to keep their hands off. Make sure that payroll taxes only go to Medicare and for paying down the national debt.

His plan to improve Medicare by establishing a voluntary affordable prescription drug benefit, and allowing the 55- to 65-year- old middle class seniors to buy into Medicare, and offering to modernize Medicare by letting seniors, not HMOs, make and benefit, when the choice is about the health coverage.

Compare that to the September 5th Medicare plan submitted by George W. Bush. It is a three-part plan that will provide immediate drug coverage ti low-income seniors, shore up the solvency of a Medicare program over the coming decade, and offer seniors a menu of health care plans from which to choose. That's George W. Bush's Medicare plan.

Now you have them both, compare. You will hear more about it in the days and weeks to come.

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