Bush Seeks 'Keystone' Vote in Pa.

President Bush criticized Sen. John Kerry's (search) plans for health care and medical liability reform on Thursday, saying the result would be even higher costs and more federal involvement.

"The Kerry plan would move America down the road toward federal control of health care," Bush told hundreds of supporters in an area outside Philadelphia that he won by 18,000 votes four years ago. Some recent polls show Kerry with a slight advantage in Pennsylvania.

Kerry's prescription for health care is "bigger government with higher costs," Bush said, a claim that the Democrat's campaign says is false.

The number of uninsured Americans increased by 5 million over the past four years and the government announced last month that Medicare premiums will increase in January by a record amount in dollar terms of $11.60 per month.

Bush said medical decisions should be made by doctors and patients. However, the Medicare law he signed will, by the administration's own estimate, move roughly 9 million more people into Medicare HMOs and other managed care plans.

On the issue of lawsuits against doctors, the president said Kerry has voted 10 times in his Senate career against reforms in the area of medical liability.

"The effects of the litigation culture are real in Pennsylvania ... medical malpractice premiums are soaring," Bush said.

The Bush campaign says limiting medical malpractice awards could save $60 billion to $108 billion annually in health care costs. The Kerry campaign rejects Bush's numbers and favors limits on medical malpractice premium increases, sanctions for frivolous lawsuits, and nonbinding mediation in all states.

Kerry says more than half the states already cap non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, told reporters at a news conference coinciding with Bush's visit that the president is raising the malpractice issue to distract attention from increasing numbers of people losing health care coverage and the rising costs of coverage.

"This is a typical response by the president's campaign, taking a problem that exists but is on its way to being solved by other people and blowing it up in an effort to scare the voters," Rendell said.

Closely mirroring national trends, the segment of people in Pennsylvania without health insurance rose in the first part of this decade. In the three years ending in 2003, about 10.7 percent of Pennsylvanians were uninsured, up from a decade low of 8.3 percent in the three years ending in 2000.

Bush lost Pennsylvania to Democrat Al Gore in 2000 by 205,000 votes.