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GOP keenly aware of seniors' priority

True, it is an election year, and everybody from presidential candidates to state lawmakers are scrambling aboard whatever bandwagon they can that they believe will bring them the most votes. But when it comes to finding help for fixed-income elderly with prescription drug expenses, we can accept the motives of the powerful -- if it means improvements can be made.

Approximately 75 percent of Americans age 61 and older feel that making prescription drugs affordable for them will be a very important determinant in their choice of presidential candidates this November, this according to an ABC News poll taken in May.

Even more significantly, two-thirds of citizens between the ages of 45 and 64 are rating it as a highly crucial issue. After all, they are the ones anticipating their own medical needs in retirement and their concern for their parents.

The heat is on. And this is "the hottest issue we've seen in some time, in every part of the country and every part of our membership," says American Association of Retired Persons Legislative Director John Rother.

We see this as being especially important in a state such as West Virginia.

President Bill Clinton has proposed a standard drug benefit under Medicare whereby prescriptions are added to other health care services the program covers -- if retirees pay an additional monthly premium. House Republicans would enlist private insurers to sell government-subsidized and approved prescription drug insurance policies to Medicare beneficiaries.

But Clinton, ever the proponent of big government, said earlier this week that he had "grave concerns" about the GOP proposal -- its chief architect is Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif. -- which he claims relies too heavily on private industry to fill the gap. This comment comes as no surprise to us.

We were pleased to read what Rep. Thomas had to say about it -- that the private sector can do a great job, and that government would step in only when necessary. GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush favors a larger role for private industry, while Democrat Al Gore favors providing a standard Medicare drug benefit for those who opt for it.

In our view, Clinton and the Democrats need not look down their noses at the GOP plan. We feel that even though Republicans aren't about to do things to suit the Democrats, they are keenly aware just how high a priority senior citizens have placed on affordable prescription medications.

Robert F. Stealey

Telegram Editorial Board chairman

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