Gore targets HMO's at women's forum

Tuesday, September 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LAS VEGAS – Al Gore went to the nation's gambling capital on Monday to improve his odds with two key constituencies: women and unions.

After going to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas to call for better women's health care, the vice president visited a hotel on the Strip to formally accept the endorsement of the Teamsters, approved earlier this month by the union's executive board.

The Vegas trip began a three-day Western swing in which the Democratic presidential nominee aimed to "stand up for American families against the powerful interests that stand in their way," Gore spokesman Chris Lehane said.

Monday's targets included health maintenance organizations and insurance companies. Mr. Gore called for new laws to force them to cover recommended breast-cancer treatments.

"It is simply wrong for doctors' medical decisions to be overruled by an HMO or an insurance company, by individuals within those organizations who don't have a license to practice medicine and don't have a right to play God," Mr. Gore said at a health-care forum at UNLV.

Republican opponent George W. Bush said Mr. Gore simply wants to give power to government.

"In all his plans, who ends up with the power, who always ends up making the choices?" Mr. Bush asked in a weekend speech to California Republicans. "Not taxpayers, but tax collectors. Not senior citizens, but HMO overseers. Not parents, or even teachers, but some distant central office."

Mr. Gore said that his "patients' bill of rights" would prohibit HMOs from offering doctors financial incentives to keep down costs. He said that HMOs should be required to cover minimum stays for breast-cancer treatments and allow patients to receive a second opinion from a specialist.

"So what do you do when you have people in this country facing off against powerful special interests?" Mr. Gore asked. "Well, if you can't solve the problem in any other way, you have to have a law."

Political analysts said this appeal may have special resonance for women, who in one recent poll preferred Mr. Gore to Mr. Bush by 17 percent.

"Historically, women tend to favor a stronger role for the federal government, and that's certainly what Gore is talking about," said Karlyn Bowman, who studies polls for the American Enterprise Institute.

Unions are another key part of Mr. Gore's coalition, and his endorsement from the 1.5 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters was hard earned.

Republicans had courted Teamsters general president James P. Hoffa, even throwing him a party at their nominating convention in Philadelphia. But the Teamsters went with Mr. Gore, citing his support for working-class families.

Mr. Gore flew to Los Angeles late Monday for a fund-raiser. He planned to remain in Southern California on Tuesday to discuss privacy rights, which his aides said are threatened by powerful insurance companies.

The vice president has another fund-raiser Tuesday night in the San Francisco area. A day later, he plans to criticize big pharmaceutical companies while discussing his proposal to add a prescription-drug benefit to Medicare.