NASHVILLE, Tenn. – President Bush (search) combined political fund raising with a pitch for improvements in the nation's health care system Thursday, telling a friendly crowd at a children's hospital that the medical field must computerize all patient records in the next decade.
"The federal government cannot run the system" as well as health care professionals, Bush said to applause from an audience of 900 people at Vanderbilt University Children's Hospital (search). The hospital is a pioneer in the field of computerized record-keeping for patients.
Bush said replacing paper with computerized records for patient files and prescriptions will "change our country for the better" and "reduce medical errors."
The president is trying to solidify his support in a Southern state where Democratic rival John Kerry (search) is showing strength.
The Kerry campaign argues that Bush is focusing on small issues at the expense of larger problems, such as skyrocketing health care costs and the millions without health insurance. Family health insurance premiums (search) are up more than 40 percent in the last four years and 3.7 million Americans have lost health insurance coverage since Bush took office, the Kerry campaign said, citing federal data and industry figures.
Bush said his administration is addressing problems with such measures as drug discount cards, tax-free health savings accounts and expanded federal support for community health centers with the goal of serving 16 million people.
Supporters greeted the president along his motorcade route; there were scattered groups of sign-waving anti-war protesters too.
Later in the day, Bush was participating in a Republican Party fund-raising event hosted by Nashville businessman Clay Jackson (search). The GOP said Bush will raise $1.7 million at the event.
The visit to Tennessee will be the ninth of Bush's presidency, and the second this year.
In 2000, Bush defeated Democrat Al Gore in Tennessee, Gore's home state, by 4 percentage points. The most recent survey of this year's matchup, taken just after the Feb. 10 presidential primaries, found Bush with a slight lead over Kerry in the state, which should be strong for the Republican incumbent. Tennessee offers 11 electoral votes.
Tennessee is a state that "Bush ought to carry," said Vanderbilt University political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer. "If he is losing Tennessee, he is probably in real trouble nationally."
Members of the Bush administration and others with close ties to him also have visited the state.
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice spoke at Vanderbilt's Senior Class Day on May 13, outlining the case for the administration's war on terrorism. Vice President Dick Cheney and first lady Laura Bush attended fund-raisers in the state in April that raised about $800,000.
Bush last visited in January to promote his No Child Left Behind (search) education reform law.
The trip will be Bush's second foray into the South in the last week. Last Friday, he spoke at Louisiana State University's commencement — a Republican-leaning state that Kerry's advisers think has become more attractive for Democrats.