Bush promotes catastrophic coverage plan for Medicare

ST. LOUIS. - Texas Gov. George W. Bush promised a cancer patient Tuesday that he will expand Medicare coverage for her and millions of other older Americans suffering from budget-busting illnesses.

Trying to put a human face on his public policies, the Republican presidential nominee visited Florida Hospital to hear an emotional plea from Kay Talton, an ovarian cancer patient whose private insurance is set to lapse. Her husband, Jack, is being treated for malignant melanoma at the same hospital.

''What will happen when that runs out?'' she asked. ''With him having cancer - and me having it - do you think another insurance company is going to take us on?''

''No,'' Bush replied.

''I don't think so,'' Talton said during the discussion with the Texas governor and several doctors. ''I'm depending on you.''

Nodding solemnly, Bush said too many Americans are in similar straits. ''That won't happen if I'm president,'' he said.

It was the same sort of half-scripted campaign event that helped Bill Clinton drive home his initiatives in two presidential campaigns. Bush is using the stories of real Americans at every campaign stop to better sell his tax, education and health care plans as polls show Democrat Al Gore gaining the advantage on those issues.

He was campaigning here and in Missouri on Tuesday to promote the portion of his $158 billion, 10-year Medicare plan that would provide catastrophic-illness coverage to seniors after their first $6,000 in expenses.

Gore's Medicare plan would cover prescription drug costs after $4,000, but his catastrophic plan does not extend to other treatments as does Bush's.

Beneath a banner proclaiming ''The Bush prescription for America -- individual choice, modernization, prescription drugs, quality care,'' the GOP candidate in St. Louis later also promised to get tough with Cuban President Fidel Castro and pushed his plan to spend $2.3 trillion of the surplus to strengthen Social Security.

But health care was his message of the day as Bush made his pitch in this battleground state before heading West for three days touring Washington state, California and New Mexico.

Bush said he also wanted to double federal aid to the National Institutes of Health, where cancer cures are being sought.

''We can do a better job on health care,'' the Texan said. ''The docs are doing their part. The patients are doing their part. Now it's time for the government'' to do more.

Gore spokesman Doug Hattaway did not comment directly about Bush's farther-reaching catastrophic coverage initiative. He called the governor's overall Medicare drug package ''more of a scam than a plan.''

Gore promises to spend $253 billion over 10 years to add prescription drug coverage to Medicare. Bush's $158 billion package would encourage private-market competition to Medicare and provide immediate state-run subsidies of seniors' drug costs.

The vice president says Bush would force seniors into HMOs. Bush says under his package seniors could choose to stay in their current Medicare plan or opt into private-industry plans.

Republicans concede that selling Medicare reforms to seniors will not be easy, particularly in a state like Florida where Democrats have a track record of convincing elderly voters that GOP politicians are a threat to government entitlement programs.

''The current system, while it may be fine for some, is not fine for everybody and we need to let seniors make choices,'' Bush said.

Gore is running surprisingly strong against Bush in this Republican-leaning state where Bush's brother Jeb is governor.


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