GOP, Gore Trade Shots on Medicare, Prescription Drugs

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

( - Health care, Medicare reform and prescription drug coverage remained hot political topics Monday, as Republicans called for agreement between the White House and Congress on Medicare reform and Vice President Al Gore took to the stump to denounce HMOs.

Medicare at the Crossroads, a 74-page booklet the Gore campaign released Monday, includes a proposal to force HMOs (health maintenance organizations) who take on Medicare recipients to do so for a two-year period instead of the current one year.

"A two-year participation period will make it harder for HMOs to withdraw from coverage, increasing the reliability and stability of the program," the booklet explains. HMOs that drop Medicare recipients would be assessed harsh penalties.

"Al Gore and Joe Lieberman believe that HMOs have a responsibility to the people who depend on them to cover their care," the booklet reads, "and there should be strong disincentives to keep HMOs from violating that trust, and strong punishment for them if they do."

Gore's plan also eliminates co-payments and deductibles for preventive measures such as hepatitis B vaccinations, colorectal and prostate cancer screenings and mammograms.

Meanwhile, Republicans leaders in the Congress sent a letter to President Clinton on Monday challenging him to work with them in order to achieve a bipartisan consensus on plans to strengthen Medicare and provide low income seniors with a prescription drug plan.

In their letter, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) said, "Sadly, it has proved very difficult to get a bipartisan compromise. First, you rejected the recommendations of the [Breaux] Commission. . . . Second, House Democrats walked out when the House passed a bill that would have reduced the costs of prescription drugs by 25 percent by offering a voluntary insurance plan within the current Medicare system."

"Finally," the letter continued, "you rejected an offer by Senate Republicans to immediately help the neediest of our seniors."

Lott and Hastert want Clinton to agree on a five-step plan to reform the system, including a Medicare "lockbox" that holds ensures Medicare revenues cannot be used for other purposes; immediate Medicare benefit increases for the elderly; $40 billion over five years to pay for a prescription drug benefit; $21 billion over the next 5 years to provide relief to Medicare providers; and legislation allowing seniors to purchase low-cost drugs in other countries.

Hastert and Lott added that movement on the five proposals was possible before Congress adjourns for the fall.

The White House, when contacted by, had no comment on the letter.