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Gore pushing health-care message in Florida swing

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WASHINGTON — Vice President Al Gore traveled to Florida on Monday hoping his position on health-care and prescription drugs for seniors will help him win the state, which could be key in his election efforts.

Starting at a town hall meeting with senior citizens in Tallahassee, Fla., Gore will spend the full week on health issues ranging from a Patient's Bill of Rights to ensuring the elderly can afford vital medicines.

"All my public life, I've stood up to the big drug companies, and fought against drug company price-gouging," Gore said in prepared remarks for the event at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

"It's just wrong for seniors to have to choose between food and medicine while the big drug companies run up record profits," he said. "If you entrust me with the presidency, I will fight for a prescription drug benefit for all seniors under Medicare."

Gore also used the event to take a swipe at his Republican rival George W. Bush's proposed tax cut, which is more than twice the tax cut proposed by Gore.

"I will never go along with a huge tax cut for the wealthy at the expense of everyone else," Gore said, adding, "It would make it impossible to secure Medicare; impossible to provide a prescription drug benefit for all seniors on Medicare; and it would wreck our good economy in the process."

Prescription drugs have become an election issue as Americans are living longer thanks to better, more expensive drugs. But Medicare does not cover most drugs taken at home, even for serious conditions like heart problems or diabetes. That leaves senior citizens without prescription drug coverage spending $1,100 annually on average.

Gore's drug plan would cost $253 billion over 10 years.

It would cover half of drug costs of up to $5,000 annually for the 39 million seniors on Medicare at a cost of between $24 and $44 a month. All out-of-pocket expenses above $4,000 would also be covered, and free coverage would be offered to about 13 million low-income seniors. Florida, with 25 electoral votes, is a state Gore is keen to win. Gore is leading in New York and California while Bush is ahead in his home state of Texas and Florida.

But with Bush holding just a single-digit lead in Florida, where the Clinton/Gore ticket won in 1996, the Gore campaign is fighting hard to win the state.

The Gore campaign is also seeking to exploit a lack of details on the prescription drug issue from the Bush camp.

Bush's running mate Dick Cheney told ABC television program "This Week" Sunday, "Specifics are being worked out right now. We will shortly have the details to be laid out during this campaign."

Bush supports offering a prescription drug benefit to Medicare recipients through a greater choice of health-care plans and proposes to help low-income seniors pay for those plans, but he has not yet fleshed out his proposal.

Gore starts the week still leading in opinion polls, a position he has enjoyed since the Democratic convention in Los Angeles earlier this month. In recent polls, Gore has been leading his Republican rival, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, by as much as 5 percentage points.

But with the campaign expected to shift into high gear after Labor Day, both candidates expect the race to tighten and stay that way until the Nov. 7 election.