MILWAUKEE – Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) promised a group of senior citizens Tuesday that he would ease the financial pinch caused by the escalating price of doctors, hospitals and medicine as it outpaces annual increases in Social Security (search) benefits.
"Seniors are finding things more and more out of reach as the expenses go up but their ability to meet it does not go up," Kerry said. President Bush worsened the squeeze on older voters, Kerry said, by crafting a Medicare prescription drug benefit (search) that won't lower drug costs, helping drive up premiums for the Medicare program.
"George Bush has had four years to lead, four years to give America a direction, four years to bring corporate America to the table, and the health care industry, and say we've got a problem," he said.
Kerry pointed to Health and Human Services Department data obtained by a congressional office that projects Medicare will consume 37 percent of the average Social Security benefit in 2006. USA Today reported the data on Tuesday.
Last year, the department projected Medicare would consume 17 percent of the average benefit in 2010.
The Democrat offered his own prescription to help seniors, which includes retooling the Medicare drug benefit to allow the government to negotiate for bulk drug discounts and permitting Americans to import drugs from Canada. The Bush administration has concerns about the safety of imported drugs.
Kerry defended himself against Republican charges that his health plan will force everyone onto government-run health care.
"We don't have a government program," he said. "I have no new bureaucracy at all in my program. You choose your doctor. You choose your plan."
The Bush-Cheney campaign said Kerry's record doesn't match his campaign promises.
"John Kerry has voted eight times for higher taxes on senior citizens' Social Security benefits," said spokesman Steve Schmidt. "He wants to repeal the prescription drug benefit that is helping senior citizens."
The campaigns have been using television ads in closely divided states like Wisconsin to battle each other over Medicare and rising health care costs.
The race for Wisconsin's 10 electoral votes has been close. Both candidates have made a half-dozen trips to the state this year, trying to win the votes that Al Gore captured by a tiny margin in 2000.
Kerry frequently faults the new Medicare prescription drug benefit, which goes into full effect next year, for doing little to lower drug costs. He says the drug program and the administration's mismanagement drove up Medicare premiums increases, which will make a record jump under the government's legal formula.