The Rx Campaign: Al Gore

Al Gore today detailed his plans to strengthen Medicare and noted that George W. Bush does not commit one dime of the surplus to help strengthen the system, which serves the health care needs of nearly 40 million Americans. Gore would shore up the Medicare Trust Fund and protect Medicare in a “lock box,” so its surpluses could not be used for pork barrel spending or tax cuts. He would also add a prescription drug benefit so beneficiaries are not forced to choose between buying medicine and paying for food or rent. Bush does not devote any resources to improve Medicare — but has advocated for controversial proposals that could increase traditional Medicare premiums, force beneficiaries into Health Management Organizations (HMOs) or increase the eligibility age.

“My plans for Medicare are consistent with a balanced budget that pays down our debt. Governor Bush has proposed spending more than double the projected surplus on tax cuts and other spending,” said Gore. “That is why we must put Medicare in a lock-box, so it can’t be raided for other priorities. The choice is clear: My plan strengthens and improves Medicare. The Bush plan falls short.”

Gore’s plan to strengthen Medicare would:

* Protect Medicare in a “lock box” so its surpluses cannot be raided for tax cuts or pork barrel spending. Gore’s plan would protect the $400 billion in Medicare surpluses by removing the program from the regular budget and protecting it in a “lock box.” This would ensure that Medicare surpluses are used to meet the retirement needs of coming generations while ensuring that the nation is debt free by 2012.

* Extend the life of Medicare Trust Fund until at least 2030. Taking Medicare off budget would save $75 billion in interest payments over the first ten years, which Gore would use to extend the life of the Medicare Trust Fund for another 30 years.

* Provide a prescription drug benefit for all beneficiaries. Gore’s prescription drug benefit would cover half the cost of prescription drugs up to $5,000, and provide catastrophic protections after beneficiaries have paid $4,000 out-of-pocket. It would also cover premiums and copayments for beneficiaries with incomes about $11,000 per year. The drug benefit would cost $253 billion over ten years.

* Restore funding to health care providers. Gore would use $40 billion of the budget surplus to strengthen nursing homes, home health agencies, rehabilitative services, rural hospitals and other organizations that serve the Medicare program.

* Implement new reforms and cut waste, fraud and abuse. Gore would also enact reforms that would make Medicare more competitive while cutting waste, fraud and abuse — saving $29 billion over ten years.

Bush does not devote any resources to strengthen Medicare for the future. Instead, he has proposed a $1.6 billion tax cut from 2002 to 2010 that primarily benefits the wealthy; a Social Security privatization plan with nearly $1 trillion in transition costs; at least $426 billion in other spending increases; and an undisclosed amount for a Star Wars missile program. These tax cut and spending proposals would dwarf the on-budget surplus of $1.47 trillion over the next ten years.

Bush has repeatedly criticized Gore for opposing or controversial proposals announced last year by the Medicare Commission. Bush has consistently praised the Medicare Commission’s proposals as a blueprint for restructuring Medicare, but has not said exactly which proposals he supports. The six main proposals of the commission could:

* Increase traditional fee-for-service Medicare premiums by 25 to 47 percent;

* force Medicare beneficiaries into HMOs;

* provide no prescription drug benefit for middle-class seniors;

* increase the eligibility age for Medicare to 67 without offering insurance protection;

* pay no reimbursements to nursing homes, home health care providers, teaching hospitals, rehabilitative services or rural hospitals; and

* commit not one dime to extend the life of the Medicare Trust Fund.

Gore used a series of graphs and tables to highlight the differences between his plan to protect and strengthen Medicare with Bush’s plan, which does not commit one dime to improve the program. These visuals will be available for viewing online at

Although Medicare surpluses are expected to exceed $400 billion, the retirement of the Baby Boom generation will strain the program. Medicare enrollment is expected to more than double from 39 million to 81 million by 2035. Today, Medicare funds are lumped in with general revenues and can be used by Congress to fund pork barrel spending or tax cuts. Many seniors under Medicare cannot afford prescription drug coverage and cannot afford to pay for prescription drugs out of their own pocket. Prescription drug prices have been rising at twice the rate of inflation for the last five years while pharmaceutical industry profits have skyrocketed. Last year, the pharmaceutical industry enjoyed profits of 18.6% of revenues — or nearly 400% the median of Fortune 500 profits. Big pharmaceutical companies charge seniors between 96 and 156 percent more for prescription drugs than they charge others to purchase the same drugs.

Throughout his career, Gore has been fighting to protect Medicare and ensure that all Americans have access to affordable prescription drugs. As Vice President, he supported efforts that helped extend Medicare’s solvency until 2025 and opposed Republican efforts to raise the eligibility age from 65 to 67. In 1978, Gore helped lead Congressional hearings into possible price-gouging by the pharmaceutical industry. Five years later, he cosponsored legislation that helped generic drug manufacturers bring down the cost of prescription drugs.

Today, Gore led a discussion with older Americans at Niles Senior Center. Niles has been serving the surrounding community for 25 years and recently reopened in a new location in December, 1999. The center is open to all community residents, ages 62 and up, and provides participants with a variety of social, educational and health related programs.