Friday, November 15, 2002
By WILL LESTER
WASHINGTON- Noting that 40 million Americans now have no health insurance, Al Gore says he now favors "single-payer" national health coverage, a proposal that would require a massive change in the health insurance system.
With single-payer coverage, money to pay for health care - such as insurance premiums and tax dollars - would be collected by a single agency, which would then pay for comprehensive coverage for all citizens.
Gore, the 2000 Democratic presidential nominee and a potential candidate in 2004, offered his views in response to a question at a synagogue in New York during a tour promoting his book "Joined at the Heart," written with his wife, Tipper.
"I was planning to wait and make a major speech on this and I probably should, but I'll just answer your question candidly," Gore told the moderator.
Gore's comments Wednesday night were first reported by ABC News' Internet political report "The Note" and were confirmed by Gore spokesman Jano Cabrera, who said any details would come in a future speech on health care.
"I think we've reached a point where the entire health care system is in impending crisis," Gore said. "I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we should begin drafting a single-payer national health insurance plan."
Depending on the details, calling for a single-payer plan could be a very dramatic step for Gore. During the 2000 primary campaign, Gore attacked Democratic rival Bill Bradley's central proposal - universal health care - calling it too expensive and not expansive enough to help poor people afford full coverage.
Another potential Democratic candidate for president, Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, pushed for health care for all Americans in a speech Thursday night to an education group in Washington. He wants to expand coverage under Medicare and Medicaid to cover people who don't have insurance.
Chastising Democrats for promoting limited goals, Dean said: "On health care, we argue about the patients' bill of rights when we should be pushing for health care for all Americans. On economic development, we talk about tax reform, but then Democrats support tax cuts which do little to help middle-class families afford college tuition and decent health care, when we should be moving away from subsidizing corporate America, and completely revamping American economic development policy to help small businesses grow."
Citing the Republicans' strong election gains, Dean said: "Last week the American people sent the Democratic party a powerful message: It is no longer enough for us as Democrats to blur the distinctions between our party and the Republicans. We need to offer a clear choice, an agenda that is our own. It's time for our party to once again stand for ideas that touch every American."
Gore, meanwhile, spoke about his failed presidential race in an interview with Barbara Walters that will air Friday night. He talked about his decision not to call on former President Clinton to campaign for him in the 2000 campaign. Some advisers felt Clinton's past sex scandals were a liability for Gore, while others in the party wanted Gore to take advantage of Clinton's political skills and popularity with the party's base voters.
"I felt that I had to sell myself," Gore said. Asked whether he would call on Clinton in a future campaign, Gore said, "I might very well ... because I think it would be a different situation."