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The Media Fund

The Media Fund, a political group led by top Democratic strategist Harold M. Ickes, opposes President Bush’s reelection. This week the liberal group is airing a 30-second television advertisement on healthcare costs, “Affordable Healthcare.” It is expected to air in 17 states that Republicans and Democrats consider competitive. California is not among them.

Script: Woman on screen: “When I think about getting older, it’s not dying I worry about. It’s living and being buried under a pile of medical bills I can’t pay for.”

Male narrator: “Healthcare costs are soaring. Under President Bush, millions more Americans are uninsured. And those who have coverage are paying more out of pocket.

“Yet Bush offers no plan to curb costs. And his new Medicare law would actually ban the government from negotiating lower prices from drug companies.”

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Woman: “With the cost of these drugs, it’s very scary.”

Images: The central figure in the ad is an unidentified woman who fingers a prescription pill bottle as she shares her concerns about health costs. The screen also shows a neon pharmacy sign, a person being pushed in a wheelchair through a corridor, an elderly woman with a worried expression and a sequence of Bush giving a speech.

Analysis: In a presidential campaign dominated by charges and countercharges about Iraq and the economy, this is the first ad in the general election campaign to focus on healthcare. It argues that Bush can’t be trusted as an advocate for lowering consumer costs. Several of the ad’s claims, which are backed up by sources that appear as text on the screen, are factual. Few analysts dispute that healthcare costs are indeed soaring, that the number of people who are uninsured has grown in recent years and that healthcare consumers are being asked to pay more out of pocket.

It is also true that the landmark Medicare law Congress enacted with Bush’s signature last year explicitly barred the government from negotiating lower prescription drug prices. But although Democrats may complain about Bush’s policies, it is a stretch to say that he has not offered a cost-containment plan. Under the new Medicare law, the government this year will send elderly beneficiaries new prescription drug cards for discounts on purchases of medicine.

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In addition, the legislation created new health-savings accounts to help people set aside tax-sheltered income for various kinds of medical bills. The Bush campaign notes that the president also has proposed caps on medical malpractice awards and refundable tax credits for individuals to help reduce the cost of healthcare.

The ad also takes a subtle, unjustified jab at Bush through visual techniques. At one point, the screen superimposes text over the president’s image that reads: “Bush law bans Medicare ... " The screen then flashes text that clarifies " ... from negotiating for lower drug prices.” But some viewers who were not paying close attention might get the false impression that the law banned Medicare itself.

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Graphics reporting by Times staff writer Nick Anderson

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