MANCHESTER — Presidential hopeful John Edwards said Friday his tough criticism of the Washington power elite a day earlier had nothing to do with rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The North Carolina Democrat began a four-day visit to the first-primary state Thursday by denouncing a system "rigged ... by greedy powers," and citing evidence including big donors to President Bill Clinton being invited to stay in the Lincoln bedroom at the White House.
But Edwards insisted Friday he was not talking about the former first lady.
"Nothing I said yesterday has anything to do with other presidential candidates," he told reporters. "We have a system in Washington that doesn't work and it hasn't worked for decades. It has nothing to do with a particular candidate or a particular administration."
Edwards focused Friday on health care, including the Medicare prescription drug plan that is administered by insurance companies and bars the government from negotiating with drug companies for lower prices.
"This is insane. It's completely insane. It's a complete giveaway to the drug companies," Edwards said after a roundtable discussion with six voters at Elliot Hospital.
"Those people, the drug companies and their lobbyists, wrote that prescription drug program. ... They wrote in a way the drug companies can charge whatever they want. The drug companies and their lobbyists got their way," he said.
With hands propped under his chin and cancer-stricken wife Elizabeth at his side, Edwards listened as the voters shared health care horror stories. One older voter said she had to move into an apartment after medical bills left her with virtually no money. A veteran complained about poor access to care and the shortcomings of the prescription plan.
"If we have a universal health care system, that part would be taken care of. You'd be taken care of," Edwards told them.
He also promised to work to ensure financial security in retirement for the elderly, such as those in the audience.
"People in this country should not be faced with what every single one of you have just described," he said. "You've worked hard all your life and have looked forward to having a retirement with your families. Now you're faced with having to cut back."
He said financial worries are commonplace among older voters.
"The bottom line is you don't get enough money from Social Security to live on if you have to pay all your medical expenses," Edwards said. "We need to get you health care immediately."
Edwards supports a universal health care plan that he estimates would cost $90 billion to $120 billion a year. Employers would be required to cover their workers or pay into a government insurance fund, and workers would get to choose among plans.
Edwards urged voters to look carefully at others candidates' health care plans.
"I want somebody to explain to me which people don't deserve health care," he said.