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Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company  
The New York Times

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July 12, 2000, Wednesday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section A; Page 18; Column 3; National Desk 

LENGTH: 539 words

Gore Prods Bush and Congress on Patients' Bill of Rights



Vice President Al Gore prodded his Republican opponent, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas, today to get behind a bipartisan patients' bill of rights now before Congress.

"It's time for Governor Bush to show us whose side he is on," said the vice president, speaking at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, where his campaign aides had set up several boxes of the game Operation that they labeled "Bush's Health Plan."

Mr. Gore was introduced by a surgeon who told of a patient who had lost her breast unnecessarily because her insurance company had refused to pay for an M.R.I. test that would have shown that her cancer was localized and could have been treated with a lumpectomy and radiation instead of a mastectomy.

The crowd cheered as the vice president criticized a Republican alternative to the bill.

"That's an old trick," Mr. Gore said. "Stick a feather in your hat and call it macaroni."

The vice president was also harshly critical of insurance companies that offer bonuses to doctors each time they decline to refer patients to a specialist.

The current system, Mr. Gore said, not only hurts patients but puts doctors in the position of being forced to "play games" with the truth in dealing with insurance companies in order to be true to the Hippocratic oath.

"It's time to give these medical decisions back to the doctors," the vice president said. "We have got to rise up and demand the leaders of this do-nothing-for-people Congress put the people first for a change."

The bipartisan bill, introduced by Representative John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, and Representative Charlie Norwood, a Georgia Republican, has passed the House and appears to be gaining support in the Senate.

In a statement, the Bush campaign answered that Mr. Gore was "continuing his "I'm not a leader tour' " and "attempting to shift blame for the lack" of patient protections.

Gov. Bush has signed a patient protection bill into law in Texas after initially fighting another version of the bill.

On NBC's "Today" show in New York, where the vice president began the day, Mr. Gore corrected Katie Couric when she said he had been "assailing" Mr. Bush on the issue. "I'm not assailing him personally, Katie."

Then he went on to say Mr. Bush, as the de facto head of the party, was, along with Republican Congressional leaders, beholden to drug companies who opposed meaningful patient protections or prescription drug benefits.

"I talked to a woman in Missouri last week who has to eat macaroni and cheese every day" so she can afford her medications, he said.

After the show, Mr. Gore worked the crowd outside Rockefeller Center, where he competed for attention with the "Today" weatherman, Al Roker, who complained that he was losing his audience.

While Mr. Gore shook hands and made funny faces at a couple of babies, he heard more complaints over the loudspeaker. Inside the studio, another guest, the television judge Judy Sheindlin, was irate that the green room had been "taken over" by Mr. Gore.

"I think the vice president ought to get me a muffin," she said. "I think he ought to get me a dozen muffins if he wants my vote."

Mr. Gore later got down on one knee to serve Her Honor a muffin.

GRAPHIC: Photo: Vice President Al Gore addressed students and faculty of the University of Arkansas for Medical Science in Little Rock, Ark., yesterday and criticized what he called a Republican "do-nothing-for-people Congress." (Agence France-Presse)

LOAD-DATE: July 12, 2000

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