Hillary Says Bush Health Plan Hurts Poor

Sen. Hillary Clinton accused the Bush administration on Thursday of planning an “aggressive assault” on the Medicaid health program for poor Americans that would leave the public health safety net in tatters.

“We are about to experience one of the most aggressive assaults on the structure and funding of public health programs in our history,” the New York Democrat told the Families USA health advocacy group.

“These are perilous times for America’s health-care infrastructure,” she added. Many lawmakers in both parties expect President Bush to propose major changes in the state-federal Medicaid health program in his budget next month, possibly turning it into a block grant to the states.

Clinton said America has a moral obligation to care for the sick, poor and vulnerable. Putting the Medicaid and Medicare programs for the poor and the elderly “on a glide path toward extinction” is “not in keeping with America’s ideals and values,” she said.

Bush has not disclosed his plans for Medicaid, which serves about 50 million people, about half of whom are children. His new Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt said earlier this month that he wants to change the program to make it more efficient.

Clinton said that market-based or tax-inspired solutions that try to turn the poor, sick or frail elderly into “rugged individualists” will leave them with no protection.

“I don’t want to live in a country that has those as its values.”

Massachusetts Democrat Sen. John Kerry, who lost the November presidential election to Bush, also addressed the Families USA conference and discussed his plan to expand health coverage for the 11 million uninsured children, building on Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Seven million are already eligible for government programs but are not enrolled.

“We can begin where the cost of immediate action is low and the cost of continued inaction is so very high,” Kerry said.

He added, “We break a fundamental promise to these children again and again just by embracing the status quo.”

Clinton said block grants were “a bad idea from nearly every angle.” Capping federal spending would shift the burden to the states when the economy deteriorates and more people lose insurance and rely on government programs, she said.