Concord, NH (CNSNews.com) - As this state's February 1st presidential primary approaches, the issue generating the most heat on the Democratic side is healthcare - whose plan offers what, and at what price.
When all the rhetoric is peeled away, there are few differences between the plans offered by Vice President Al Gore and former US Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey. Still, as polls show Bradley either inching ahead of Gore or in a statistical dead heat with Gore, both campaigns are emphasizing what differences there are in the candidates' respective health care plans.
"Health care is shaping up to be one of the biggest issues in this campaign and an issue in which there are significant differences between the two candidates," said Doug Hattaway, Gore's press spokesman.
Noting that some 44 million Americans presently are uninsured -- a number that has grown under the Clinton-Gore Administration -- Bradley supporters are quick to say that Gore's approach does not go far enough and lacks a sense of "boldness." Bradley supporters are equally quick to point out that Bradley's proposal guarantees access for all children - for all Americans, in fact - through subsidies that would allow the uninsured to purchase policies from the same plan that provides protection to federal workers.
Since it guarantees insurance for all children and access for all adults, Bradley's plan also eliminates Medicaid. But it preserves Medicare and even expands that program, by providing prescription drug coverage for all senior citizens. "We have no cap on prescription drugs, but Gore's proposal does," said Mo Elleithee, Bradley's Granite State press chief.
A recent study by Emory University Professor Kenneth Thorpe contends Bradley's proposal would cost taxpayers slightly more than $1 trillion dollars over the first 10 years, while Gore's would have the public paying $312 billion in that same timeframe. The point was hotly debated at a recent town meeting between the two candidates, held on the Dartmouth College campus in Hanover.
Thorpe, the author of the cost analysis, is a former Clinton-Gore administration employee and an advisor to the Gore campaign, something the Bradley spokesman is quick to point out.
But Thorpe is not the only one to weigh in on costs and coverage. Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports Magazine, also compared the two plans, and it called Bradley's "preferable" to Gore's in seven of eight categories, including cost estimates. Consumers Union determined Bradley's plan would cost between $55 billion and $65 billion a year, or $550 billion to $650 billion over ten years.
As for boldness and breadth, Hattaway contends Gore's proposal insures 88 percent of the population, while Bradley's would cover 89 percent. "It covers one percent more, at three times the cost," Hattaway said. "The fundamental differences between the two plans is that Al Gore's focuses on covering all children by 2005, provides affordable prescription drugs for seniors on Medicare, and makes sure Medicare and Medicaid are financially secure. It also calls for the passage of a Patient's Bill of Rights for those involved in health maintenance organizations."
Those are the same points Gore stresses in a just released 30-second television spot airing in New Hampshire. The ad shows Gore on camera, insisting his plan will not unbalance the federal budget and will insure all kids by the year 2005, after which the plan would be expanded to adults.
Gore supporters also point to the vice president's recent in-state announcement that his plan would insure children in families of four, whose parents earn as much as $41,000 or 250 percent above the poverty level. Currently, eligibility for Medicare or other federal plans extends to twice the poverty level. By contrast, Bradley's plan would cover families of four with total earning of $32,800 a year, or three times the poverty level.
Hattaway also insists Gore's plan can be paid for within the context of a balanced budget. He says, "Bradley's plan makes big promises, promises he won't be able to keep." While visiting this first-in-the-nation primary state, Gore has repeatedly warned voters that Bradley's plan would result in the elimination of the state's Health Kids Program, a charge some Bradley supporters insist is designed to frighten the working poor.