A Prescription for November: For the Pols, the Big Drug Issue of 2000 Is in the Pharmacy

Article excerpt

Al Gore looked every bit the good son as he accompanied Shirley Kindle to fill her prescriptions last week at an East Hartford, Conn., pharmacy. The 65-year-old retired clerical worker, who has no insurance coverage for drugs, rang up $506.34 for a month's supply of medicines to treat diabetes and other ailments; the total devouring her monthly Social Security check of $496. Gore isn't the only 2000 candidate taking trips to the drugstore with seniors. Rep. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat running for the Senate, and Brian Schweitzer, a Montana farmer challenging Republican Sen. Conrad Burns, have both taken groups north of the border for low-cost Canadian medicines and valuable press coverage.

Drug prices may be this election year's hottest issue. Polls routinely show that voters regard escalating drug costs as the most serious problem facing the health-care system, and candidates are responding in kind. Gore and President Clinton are pitching new drug benefits for Medicare recipients. Congressional Republicans--worried about being portrayed by well-organized seniors this fall as heartless conservatives--have also developed plans to ease drug costs. "Their view is that they cannot afford to be against a prescription drug benefit," said Harvard health-policy analyst Robert Blendon. "It's a real vote mover."

Gore's plan is the most sweeping--and costly. Medicare would pay half of a senior's prescription expenses, up to $5,000. Once a recipient's out-of-pocket costs reached $4,000, the government would pay the whole tab. …