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WHERE THE CANDIDATES STAND ON THE SAFETY NET. Dukakis says he's `on your side.' Bush calls for a `kinder, gentler' America. For the nation's needy, what do they have in mind? Ninth in a series on the issues of '88. BUSH

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GEORGE BUSH'S proposals to aid poor Americans have paid particular attention to health issues. He proposes changes in current federal programs to improve access to health care for pregnant women, infants, older children, and adults. Mr. Bush's proposals are designed to aid both the poor and those who, while not officially poor, cannot afford medical insurance. (An estimated 37 million Americans lack health-care insurance.) His plans are not fully detailed, however.

This year Congress expanded medicaid, the joint federal-state program established to finance health care for the poor, to finance medical care for all pregnant women and infants up to one year old who are living in official poverty (below about $10,000 a year for a family of four). But many experts and politicians say the changes do not go far enough.

Bush would change medicaid in four ways. First, he would provide medical coverage to pregnant women whose annual income is ``substantially above'' the poverty level, in the words of an aide. This proposal comes as two major studies of infant mortality in the US find that America has the worst record of 20 industrialized nations; the most serious problem is among impoverished pregnant women, who cannot afford prenatal medical care.

Second, Bush eventually would cover all young children who live in poor families, ideally up to the age of five.

Third, the vice-president would phase in expansion of medicaid to permit adults with modest incomes above the poverty line to purchase medicaid coverage at a cost below that of private insurance plans. In general, he says he would seek to ensure that all Americans have access to quality health care.

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