WASHINGTON (AP) -- The presidential campaigns of Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush are slinging ads and arithmetic at each other in a battle over prescription drugs for the elderly. But so far there's only one plan -- Gore's -- in the fight.
With $5 million in commercials and a visit Monday to Floridians struggling with their drug bills, Gore is jumping on the lack of specificity in Bush's promise to support prescription drug coverage for senior citizens -- a promise the Republican now says he will flesh out next week.
Gore's plan to attach a drug benefit to Medicare comes with plenty of detail, including a $253 billion cost estimate, enough for Republicans to tag it as another example of "Hillary-care" in a swipe at the ambitious health care reforms explored under the supervision of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
A "nationalized, catch-all, government-run, once-size-fits-all plan," said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer, who made the allusion to Mrs. Clinton.
Responding to Republican ads attacking his Medicare drug benefit, Gore said Bush should be "presenting specifics so the American people can make a judgment for themselves."
Polls give Gore a 2-to-1 advantage when voters are asked who would do a better job dealing with health care and prescription drug prices. And the elderly are more apt than younger people to vote.
John Rother, policy director of AARP, which represents older people, said drug costs are the leading concern of at least half of the 12 million seniors his group represents.
"Gore has the advantage of having a plan," he said. "You can criticize the plan; it's not all that generous, frankly, and it's also something that they've not gotten Congress to support yet. But it's a plan."
Fleischer said Bush's alternative, emphasizing consumer choice, would resemble that introduced in May by Sens. John Breaux, D-La., and Bill Frist, R-Tenn.: a sliding scale of government subsidies for retirees choosing to purchase drug coverage from private insurance companies.
"The governor ... will make clear exactly which of those levels he supports and how he'll do it," Fleischer said.
Bush himself called the Breaux-Frist plan "a blueprint for success" Monday while adding: "I think we can make it even better."
Gore's plan would ensure that no one enrolled in it pays more than $4,000 a year for drugs. The coverage foreseen in the Breaux-Frist plan would pay half of drug costs after a $250 deductible, with an out-of-pocket cap of $6,000 a year for enrollees.
Gore would have the government pay all drug costs for the poorest senior citizens. Most others would pay premiums starting at $25 a month and rising to more than $40 a month over 10 years, and they would also pay half the cost of the drugs out of pocket, up to an annual cap.
His plan is closely modeled on one offered this spring by President Clinton.
The Bush campaign resorted to a device already tried by Gore -- call it the per diem principle -- that involves belittling an opponent's program by boiling it down to how much it would be worth to someone per day. In that regard, Gore's plan would be worth 13 cents a day to the average senior citizen, who pays $673 a year for drugs, the Bush campaign said.
Actually, the campaign at first said 5 cents a day but miscalculated when dividing a number by two.
Gore aides use a higher figure for a senior citizen's average drug costs, $1,100, which they say is more up to date than the 1996 estimate used by the Congressional Budget Office and cited by Bush.
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