Bush Turns Attention to Health Care Reform

Seeking to gain ground against John Kerry (search), President Bush said Thursday that his Democratic opponent "wants to expand government" in education, health care, taxes and virtually every other area of domestic policy.

"We have a difference of philosophy in this campaign," Bush told supporters. "It's a clear difference: my opponent's programs will expand government. Our programs will expand opportunity."in three states that are among the handful of tossups remaining in the race.

Bush, trying to put Kerry on the run, has started to spend more on advertising in Minnesota, a longtime Democratic stronghold won by Democrat Al Gore (search) in 2000. That has forced Kerry to move up plans to advertise here, and both candidates and their surrogates have blanketed the state with visits. Bush's trip Thursday was his fifth to Minnesota this year; Kerry has made six stops in the state.

With health care costs rising dramatically and the number of people without health insurance up by about 5 million to 45 million last year, Kerry has kept up a drumbeat of criticism of Bush on the topic.

Bush's proposals include letting small businesses pool resources to buy health insurance at the same discounts available to larger companies. He also favors expanding tax-free health saving accounts for individuals and plans to propose a tax credit to help poor families and individuals buy health coverage. Further, he wants to have health centers in the poorest communities to serve the underprivileged.

Bush has called for a medical liability overhaul to limit malpractice awards and, he argues, drive down health care costs.

"The only thing worse than Bush's failed record on health care is his plan to encourage more businesses to stop providing health care to their employees and raise the cost of health insurance even more," Kerry spokesman Phil Singer said. "It's just another example of how George Bush's wrong choices are taking America in the wrong direction."

Bush, though, slams Kerry for proposing what the president on Thursday called "a plan that is massive and it is big" that would have government dictating Americans' health care choices. The Kerry campaign objects to that characterization, saying its plan is a mix of business incentives and tax credits.

Kerry has proposed helping more businesses offer health care by requiring the federal government to pick up 75 percent of catastrophic health care costs, a plan his campaign estimates will lower premiums by an average of 10 percent. The Massachusetts senator also would give small businesses a tax credit to help them bear the cost of health insurance and wants to allow people to buy cheaper-priced drugs from Canada.