DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – Democrat Howard Dean, courting politically potent seniors, is calling for tax breaks for long-term care insurance and a national registry for workers in care facilities to help identify those who have abused the elderly.

Dean, in a speech billed as a major new policy initiative, will also seek flexibility for states to offer care for seniors outside a nursing home setting, and will push for a “modest” new investment in community and home-based care for seniors.

There was no price tag set on Dean’s proposal, but he stressed that he was not seeking broad new spending programs. His theme was seeking a greater focus on alternatives to caring for the frail elderly.

He has criticized his Democratic rivals for proposing broad new spending proposals, warning they risk taking the party back to days when many considered Democrats a tax-and-spend party. While not setting a cost, Dean sought to emphasize the modest nature of his proposals.

The bulk of his proposal amounts to a greater sensitivity for the needs of the elderly, compassion he said he’s demonstrated during his 12 years as governor of Vermont.

“In Vermont, we check on people receiving care at home, not an inspection but a call to see if there are problems,” said Dean, in remarks prepared for delivery on Sunday. “This needs to happen anywhere vulnerable seniors are receiving care at home or in the community.”

Dean was headed to Dubuque on Sunday to deliver his policy address to a group of about 100 people at a long-term care facility. He carefully selected seniors, people with disabilities and “sandwich” families caring both for children and parents as his audience.

A copy of his speech and policy proposals were obtained in advance by The Associated Press.

It’s a crucial issue in Iowa, home of leadoff precinct caucuses Jan. 19, and a state with one of the largest elderly populations. Those elderly are a political force because they vote in far higher proportions that other age groups, and surveys have shown that long-term care and remaining at home instead of going to nursing homes, are very big issues with that group.

Dean said he has a proven record of focusing on the issue.

“In Vermont, we make the results of inspections of nursing homes, their costs and services available to families in a user-friendly format,” said Dean.

In addition, Dean said he would favor additional funding for the National Institutes of Health to conduct new research on ways of caring for the frail elderly, and the roots of systemic diseases for the elderly.

Dean was seeking to rise above the fray on the long-term care issue, focusing on his status as a physician before he became governor. He was also seeking to cool the temperature of a Democratic primary fight that’s increasingly fractious, saying he would focus his fire on the issue on President Bush and not his party rivals.

“Yet, what is the Bush administration’s response to this looming crisis that increasingly threatens our economic, physical and mental well-being as we grow older?” said Dean. “Nothing at best, or aggravating the situation even further at worst.”

Most polls have shown Dean closely bunched with Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt atop the field for Iowa’s leadoff precinct caucuses. Groups representing the elderly are positioning themselves to play a role in the caucuses.

AARP, the nation’s largest group representing seniors, has a candidate forum next month in Des Moines. While that group won’t endorse a candidate, it is likely to make it very clear which candidates aren’t acceptable.

Editors: Mike Glover has covered politics since 1982, when he began covering the Iowa Statehouse.

AP-ES-09-27-03 1207EDT

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