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Gore Backs Parity; Bush Fails to Reply to Field Query

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Vice President Al Gore expressed support for parity coverage for addiction treatment and promised to increase funding for school- and community-based prevention efforts if elected president. However, Gore's response to an addiction-field candidate's questionnaire dodged queries about his position on issues such as needle-exchange programs, mandatory minimum sentences, and taxing alcohol to pay for treatment and prevention.

Gore's opponent, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, on the other hand, failed to respond to the questionnaire, submitted by State Associations of Addiction Services (SAAS), a treatment providers' group. Bush did recently release a statement outlining his position on drug issues in general.

Asked whether health insurers should be allowed to limit addiction treatment or charge higher premiums for addiction coverage than for other illnesses, Gore's campaign noted that the Federal Employee Benefits Health Plan now offers parity for addiction treatment. “This should be the model for all health plans,” according to the Gore campaign's response. “Al Gore is committed to the goal of parity in all health plans, starting with children.”

“The treatment gap must be closed through insurance, in Medicaid, in Medicare and in the criminal justice system,” added Gore's campaign. The statement highlighted the candidate's support for increased treatment funding for prisoners and at-risk youth, saying Gore would “help states shut the revolving door of drug-related crime with mandatory drug testing, drug treatment and more prison time for those who don't stay clean.”

Gore also would support other alternatives to incarceration for addicted, non-violent offenders, including community services and electronic tracking bracelets, according to his campaign.

The questionnaire also asked about the candidates' support for increased funding for treatment and prevention, and whether Bush and Gore would support a dedicated tax on alcohol to fund these services. Gore responded that he would “ensure adequate funding” for addiction services, but his reply did not address the alcohol-tax question. Gore's campaign did state, however, that the candidate would support increased funding for the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program and the Drug Free Communities Act.

Asked about drug courts and mandatory minimum sentences, Gore's campaign said he would support expansion of the former, but did not say whether mandatory sentences should be curtailed. Gore would seek to reform current disparities between powder and crack cocaine sentencing, however. “As president, Al Gore will work for reform, because the disparities, which fall disproportionately on minorities, are unfair and undermine confidence in our criminal justice system,” his campaign said.

Gore strongly supported the role of faith-based organizations in providing addiction treatment services, so long as “a secular choice is available, and that no one receives unwanted proselytization.” But his campaign failed to answer a question about whether faith-based groups should be held to the same quality and licensing standards as non-religious organizations.

The questionnaire asked if the candidate would lift the current federal ban on funding for needle-exchange programs. In response, Gore's statement noted that research has shown that such programs decrease HIV infection rates, serve as a gateway to treatment and don't increase drug-use rates. The Gore campaign said local communities should be free to use needle exchanges as part of their comprehensive AIDS campaigns, but stopped short of saying that Gore would lift the federal funding ban.

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