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Gore Expands Medicare Proposal To Cover Preventive Health Care

By James Gerstenzang
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.

Vice President Al Gore expanded his plan to revamp Medicare on Monday, proposing new coverage for preventive health care and penalties for health maintenance organizations that reduce their Medicare work.

Gore said the presidential election six weeks from now will come down to a choice over which candidate “stands up and fights for the seniors who need health care.”

The Gore campaign is hoping that differences over health care with Gov. George W. Bush of Texas, the Republican presidential nominee, will prove a powerful incentive for undecided voters to move to Gore’s side.

That is particularly so in Florida, which has 25 electoral votes, the largest percentage of elderly voters of any state and a race that is up for grabs.

Gore, campaigning with his wife, Tipper, unveiled new details of his Medicare program in a speech at The Coliseum -- an art Deco hall once the center of social and civic life in St. Petersburg -- and in a 74-page booklet he issued Monday, “Medicare at a Crossroads.”

The vice president has long been pressing his differences with Bush over Medicare, which serves 40 million Americans, and the program he presented Monday builds on earlier proposals to extend the Medicare trust fund’s solvency from 2025 to 2030 and make prescription drug benefits available to all beneficiaries.

On Monday, Gore proposed eliminating most deductibles and co-payments for Medicare’s preventive services. Thus, beneficiaries would not have to pay separate fees for various screenings, among them those for prostate and colon cancer. Under current regulations Medicare charges a $100 deductible and, for preventive care, a 20 percent co-payment.

In addition, the vice president would make such tests available under Medicare at rates recommended by health experts.