McCain: Medicare prescription relief likely

U.S.

Sen.

John McCain, R-Ariz., said Tuesday that he expects prescription drug relief to be enacted with George W.

Bush as president.

"I think that from my conversations with President-elect Bush it is one of his priorities," McCain said during a half-hour interview Tuesday with the Miner.

"It is going to be one of the highest priorities, and I think chances are good that we have a prescription drug program for the elderly."

However, McCain said some factors will make any kind of prescription package complicated.

"Health care issues are so complex and so serious," he said.

"You've got prescription drugs for seniors.

You've got patients' bill of rights."

McCain also cited the collapse of health maintenance organizations and the shortage of nurses.

His optimism on prescription drug coverage would be good news for thousands of seniors in Mohave County who lost that benefit after the Medicare HMO provided by Premier Healthcare of Arizona collapsed in late 1999.

The demise of Premier prompted thousands of seniors in Mohave and other Arizona counties to switch back to Medicare's traditional fee-for-service plan, which lacks prescription coverage.

Seniors need to purchase supplemental policies to get covered, and others have taken bus trips to Mexican border towns, where drugs are far less expensive.

Prescription coverage was part of the plan proposed by the Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare in 1999, according to McCain.

The plan provided a "blueprint to address issues," but Clinton rejected it, McCain said.

He said some people speculated that Clinton rejected the plan because it had "tough remedies."

McCain spoke of a Clinton initiative that has been unpopular in Mohave County and other rural areas of the West: the creation of numerous national monuments under the Antiquities Act, passed in 1906.

Area ranchers and elected officials opposed the creation a year ago of the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument on 1 million acres in the Arizona Strip.

McCain said he did not disagree with the goal but opposed the process because Clinton and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt proposed the monuments "without any kind of consultation with the local people." The Antiques Act was designed to protect historic sites such as Gettysburg, not set aside "vast tracts of land."

By contrast, the late U.S.

Rep.

Morris Udall, D-Ariz., led a successful drive during the 1980s to set aside 3.5 million acres in Arizona as federal wilderness areas.

"It took nearly three years," McCain said.

"It took public meeting after public meeting.

We heard from the ranchers, and the miners and the mayors."

McCain said it is highly unlikely that Congress will overturn the national monument designations, as some local activists have recommended, because the Democrats hold half of the 100 seats in the Senate.

McCain indicated that he has mixed feelings about the proliferation of natural gas-fired power plants in Arizona.

"I really believe that anything that impacts our groundwater supplies has to be addressed,' McCain said.

"I also think that these power plants are designed to take care of Arizona's energy needs."

Speaking on national issues, McCain said he backs Bush's controversial choices of former Missouri Sen.

John Ashcroft as attorney general and Gale Norton, former Colorado attorney general, as interior secretary.

Ashcroft has come under fire because of his opposition to abortion, ties to the religious right and perceived insensitivity to minorities.

Environmentalists have criticized Norton's ties to property-rights groups and former Interior Secretary James Watt.

"There has never been any indication that (Ashcroft) will not enforce the law," McCain said.

He said Norton would do a "fine job."

McCain said he expects to see major initiatives in health care, Social Security and tax cuts, and "a very definite shift in foreign policy." He said rural Arizona will benefit from advances in telecommunications, especially with health care and schools.

McCain, who was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict and who ran for the Republican nomination for president in 2000, said he will be busy with his continuing chairmanship of the Commerce Committee.

He also has ruled out a challenge to Bush in 2004 and a presidential bid in 2008 because he will be too old at 72.

"It's a new administration," McCain said.

"New policies are coming out of Washington.

… I think it will be a busy time, a lot of interesting issues."