WASHINGTON (AP) -- Al Gore is opening a weeklong focus on health care by telling older voters that his plan for prescription drug coverage is a winner for them and that Republican rival George W. Bush has offered no specifics at all.
Gore was headed Monday for Tallahassee, Fla., and a round-table discussion with seniors in a key electoral state as part of the Democratic presidential nominee's effort to reshape the campaign debate.
Polls have suggested that voters view Gore as the candidate more likely to boost the nation's health care system, and his campaign was moving on a number of fronts to put the issue front and center.
In Florida, a state with a large elderly population, Gore has chosen to focus on helping pay for prescription drugs, a big worry for many older voters.
"It's just wrong for seniors to have to choose between food and medicine while the drug companies run up record profits," Gore said in remarks prepared for the event.
He cast himself as a lifelong advocate for seniors.
"All my public life, I've stood up to the big drug companies and fought against drug company price-gouging," Gore said. "As president you can count on me to take on the powerful forces so you can get the prescription drugs and coverage you deserve."
Interviewed Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America," Gore responded to a Bush campaign ad criticizing his prescription plan.
"On the other side, I think they could best serve the American people not with a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign about a nonexistent plan but rather by presenting specifics so the American people can make a judgment for themselves," Gore said.
Meanwhile, Bush was gathering teachers at the Texas governor's mansion in Austin on Monday to discuss his education proposals, his campaign's top legislative priority.
While Gore was hitting the road, surrogates were making the case in Washington.
Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala held a conference call Sunday with reporters to praise Gore's plan and argue that Bush hasn't really offered much on prescription drugs. The campaign's theme was that Bush spends all the surplus on a big tax cut and leaves nothing for other key programs.
"If they do roll out a plan, where are they going to get the money to pay for it?" she asked.
Of Gore's proposal, Shalala declared: "It's affordable and voluntary and we pay for it."
Bush has voiced support for plans offered by congressional Republicans that would offer a subsidy to insurance companies for providing drug coverage for low-income seniors. Running mate Dick Cheney said Sunday that more details on the GOP prescription package would be forthcoming "in the not-too-distant future."
By focusing on Gore's prescription plan, campaign strategists say they are aiming at the 39 million seniors covered by Medicare, a demographic group that votes in higher numbers than any others. Senior policy aides said they want to focus on that piece of the health care puzzle because Gore's plan is broader.
Under Gore's proposal, Medicare would pick up all the costs of prescription drugs for low-income seniors -- as much as a third of that group. For the rest, Medicare would pay half the cost of prescription drugs up to $5,000 a year.
No one would pay more than $4,000 a year for prescription drugs, under Gore's proposal, estimated to cost $253 billion over 10 years.
The GOP responded with Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist, who asserted that the Republican plan offers more choices. "Seniors won't have the wool pulled over their eyes," Frist, the only physician in the Senate, told reporters.
Moving to blunt Gore's momentum on the issue, Bush has launched television ads boosting his proposals, while the Republican National Committee this wins begins running ads blasting Gore's proposals.
To counter that, Gore brought out former Food and Drug Administration chief David Kessler to label Bush's commercials "false and misleading" and say they wouldn't meet FDA standards for truth in advertising.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.