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Gore Plays Medicine Man

Vice President Al Gore promised Thursday to lead a war on cancer. He also offered a proposal to speed Medicare coverage for preventive screenings that the human genome research project promises.

The Democratic presidential candidate called for measures to keep medical records private and to ban employment and health insurance discrimination against workers who find through genetic testing that they are predisposed to disease.

"I pledge this from my heart: If I am entrusted with the presidency, I will work with you to put the same energy and priority into fighting cancer that we would put into preventing a war that could take 500,000 American lives every year," Gore said.

"We can win this war. I want to lead this war."

Accompanied by Frank Hunger, the widower of his sister, who died of lung cancer in 1984, Gore highlighted his campaign proposals in a speech at Emory University Medical Center after visiting a children's cancer center across the street.

In a playroom there, he got on his hands and knees to chase Ian MacKay, 2, under a table.

"I know from my own family's experience what cancer can do to a family," Gore said.

Noting that cancer survival rates for children are now as high as 80 percent because nearly all children are offered access to clinical trials, Gore told nodding physicians, "You're turning a corner with cases turning out more successfully than ever before. It's got to put wind in your sails."

Scientists on the human genome project are expected, within the next few years, to identify genes involved with causing cancer, Gore said. "We have to organize ourselves to take advantage of the new discoveries that have been coming to us and soon will be coming at us in a rush."

He proposed a "fast track" process for congressional approval of Medicare coverage for preventive screenings and treatments as they are developed. A panel of scientists would make recommendations on new techniques based on effectiveness and cost. Congress would have 60 days to vote yes or no on each recommendation for a new Medicare benefit.