Prescription issue not easy

Wednesday, August 30th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON– It sounds simple enough: Provide prescription drugs for senior citizens in Medicare. But doing it is complicated. And explaining it in 30 seconds is almost impossible.

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Republicans and Democrats are trying to this week, saturating television airwaves in key states with $15 million in ads. But virtually every sentence raises more questions than answers.

Still, the ads project fundamental values behind each candidate's philosophy: Democrats warn of big insurance companies. Republicans warn of big government. Taken together, voters are asked to decide which is worse.

Mr. Bush hasn't yet produced a plan to provide prescription drugs under Medicare. He has said only that he likes the idea and that certain approaches are headed in the right direction. Mr. Gore has a detailed program – but the vast majority of those details never make it to the commercials.

In a Republican National Committee spot, Mr. Bush says: "Every senior will have access to prescription drug benefits." But what does "access" mean? Will they have to join an HMO? Will the benefits be affordable? Mr. Bush doesn't say.

In the same ad, the RNC says Mr. Gore "opposed bipartisan reform." It doesn't say what that reform was or why he opposed it.

Bush ads promise drugs for "every senior who needs them." But who doesn't need them?

The Democratic National Committee charges that "George Bush's approach leaves millions of seniors with no prescription drug coverage – none." But that's a guess, since he hasn't outlined his plan yet. And the ad doesn't say how much Mr. Gore would spend to cover everyone – a hefty $253 billion over 10 years. That includes people who can afford to pay for the coverage on their own.

Still, the ads telegraph each party's underlying philosophy.

Most Democrats want to add drug benefits to Medicare, assuring that everyone can get them. Republicans would give participants a subsidy to buy coverage from private insurers.