THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||March 17, 1998|
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT ANNOUNCEMENT OF MEDICARE EXPANSION LEGISLATION
11:35 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Senator Kennedy iseven moreexuberant than normal today, but you have to forgive him and me and SenatorMoynihan and isolated others -- this is St. Patrick's Day, and were feeling prettygood, the Irish are. (Laughter.)
Thank you, Congressman Stark, for your long leadership andyourwillingness to push this legislation. Thank you, Senator Moynihan, formaking itutterly clear, so that no one can dispute it, that this legislationpresents nothreat to the integrity of the Medicare program or the security of thetrust fund.Thank you, Sherrod Brown, for your initiative and your leadership. Asalways,thank you, Senator Kennedy.
And I'd like to say a word of thanks to one person who hasnotspoken here today -- our Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, who hasworked sohard to help one particular group of Americans here -- Americans whoretired early,in part because they were promised health care benefits which were thendenied tothem. This will take care of them, and we can keep the promise that others made tothem. And I think we have to do it. And thank you, Tom Daschle, forfighting forthem. (Applause.)
I'd also like to thank Leader Gephardt and CongressmanDingell andall the members of the House Caucus who are here -- thank you very, verymuch. AndI can't help noting that this may be the first public appearance inWashington forthe newest member of this Caucus, Representative Lois Capps, fromCalifornia.(Applause.)
Let me begin with a point I have made over and over to theAmericanpeople since the State of the Union address. This is a remarkable time for ourcountry. I look at all these young people who are working here, and Ithink howglad I am they are coming of age at a time when America is working; when we aremaking progress, economically, we're making progress on our socialproblems, we'remaking progress in our quest for peace and security in the world.
But everybody knows that the world is changing veryrapidly. Andso the question is, what should we be doing in the midst of good times. Ibelievethe last thing we should be doing is sitting on our lead -- if I could usea sportsanalogy. Good times give us the confidence, the resources and the spacenot onlyto dream about the future we want in the 21st century, but to take actionto dealwith it. It is wrong to sit idly by when we can be taking steps to prepare forthat future. That's why I don't want us to spend a surplus that is onlynowbeginning to materialize until we have savedSocial Security for the 21st century. That's why I want us to worktogether to make sure we deal with the long-term challenges ofMedicare.
But it's also why I think we should not let a single daygo by when Americans have problems that we can remedy in ways thatwill not weaken our present success, but instead will reinforce it.That's why I hope we get a comprehensive bill through to deal withthe tobacco problem, because there are a thousand kids a day whoselives are at stake. And that's why I believe we should be dealingwith this issue now.
President Johnson said when Medicare was first enactedthat it proved the vitality of our democracy can shape the oldest ofour values to the needs and obligations of changing times. That'swhat these leaders are doing here today.
You heard Senator Moynihan say most people don't waituntil they're 65 to retire. But the fastest growing group of peopleare people over 65. There are huge numbers of people in this agegroup. There are people 62 and over who have lost their healthinsurance, but can't buy into Medicare. There are people under 65who are married to somebody who's 65 or older who had the healthinsurance, and that person retired, got into Medicare, but the spouselost the health insurance. There are people who are 55 and over whohave been downsized, or who actually retired, early retirement,because their employer actually promised them they would have healthinsurance, and then the promise was not kept.
I want to say that this is not an entirely disinterestedthing. In 2001, I will be 55 and unemployed, through no fault of myown. (Laughter.) And this bill has a lot of appeal to me.(Laughter.) I say that to make you laugh. I get a lot of lettersfrom people that I've known a long time who are my age, who aremiddle class people -- people I grew up with, whose spouses arebeginning to have the health problems that go along with just workingyour way through life; people who don't have a great health insurancecoverage, like I've been privileged to have. And they are terrifiedthat they will spend the years between 55 and 65 with maybe the mostchallenging health problems in their entire lives cropping up, withno insurance.
Now, I believe that this is an issue on which Democratsand Republicans should be able to unite. We ask the Republicans tocome and help us on this. Let's don't play election year games onthis. We don't want to, either. We want to do it in a bipartisanfashion and get it behind us. There are hundreds of thousands ofpeople out there in America who need this initiative.
People say, well, why don't you wait until the MedicareCommission comes in and issues its report. My answer is SenatorMoynihan's answer -- because we have the Congressional Budget Officeestimates. They told us that this will add nothing to the burden ofthe Medicare trust fund, it will cost less than we had originallythought and we can insure more people.
But remember the human dimension. Remember Ruth Cain,who spoke when we announced this program in January. When herhusband turned 65, her employer dropped their insurance benefits. Hegot Medicare, she didn't. But she had a heart condition and theycouldn't afford health insurance. So she didn't get healthinsurance. She went to the hospital one time and the bill was$13,000. Some people have said of our proposal, well, this billcosts a lot of money for retired people -- $300 a month or something.One trip to the hospital for anything will more than likely be morethan twice as much in one pop as a whole year's annual premiums. Themost minor trip to the hospital. The Cains and families like them,the families that Congressman Brown mentioned, they ought to haveanother choice.
Today, I am releasing a report that shows state by statehow many Americans need these protections -- state by state. And wewill see, state by state, the human lives we're talking about and thenumber of people that will be put at risk if we wait another year todo this.
Tomorrow the Kaiser Foundation will unveil a study thatshows that the individual insurance market often denies coverage orcharges excessive premiums to older, sicker Americans, the verypeople this policy would help to protect. Senator Moynihan said, Iwant to reiterate because I have heard Senator Kennedy mention thecriticisms of this program -- I want to say this a second time -- theCongressional Budget Office -- not the administration's BudgetOffice, the Congressional Budget Office -- reports this plan willcost individuals even less and benefit even more people than we firstestimated. It will give somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000Americans new options for health care coverage at a vulnerable timein their lives.
Let me say one other thing. The bipartisanKennedy-Kassebaum legislation we adopted last year -- or in 1996 --was also designed to help Americans keep their health care when theychanged jobs or when someone in their family got sick -- a bill likethis one, designed to give people peace of mind. But we now see onnews reports today -- another good reason why it's better for us todo this in this way -- because just today we see that some insurersare finding ways around that law, giving insurance agents incentivesto delay or deny coverage to vulnerable Americans. These practiceshave to be stopped. I am directing Secretary Shalala and theDepartment of Health and Human Services to conduct a thorough reviewof the options for strengthening the protections of theKennedy-Kassebaum law. (Applause.)
And tomorrow the Department will send a notice to everyinsurer in every state in our country affirming what we already know,that impeding anyone's access to health care in violation of this lawis illegal. It's not just wrong, it's illegal. The law is vital tothe health and stability of America's workers and their families. Weintend to enforce it vigorously.
But let me say, you see the problems we have with thatkind of approach. With this kind of approach, anybody who can affordthe premium or whose children or relatives will help them to affordthis premium, won't have to worry about whether they have health carecoverage. We won't have to worry about some regulation or waitingfor a report to come in to tell us whether this or that or the otherperson is complying. We will know that we're helping hundreds ofthousands of people who have worked hard all their lives and playedby the rules and been good citizens to have the decent, secure timein a vulnerable period of their lives. We can extend thisopportunity in a responsible way.
Medicare is one of the crowning achievements of thiscentury for the American people. With this legislation, and with theother challenges that we intend to face and overcome, we can makesure, as we become an older and older and older country -- which is,I always say, a high-class problem -- that Medicare will be one ofthe crowning achievements of the 21st century as well.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)