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Medicare, patients' bill of rights on radio talks

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Two days after unveiling his ideas to revamp the 1960s-era Medicare system, U.S. President George W. Bush used his Saturday radio address to stress Medicare's "commitment" to senior citizens.

That commitment "will always stand," but the system must be modernized to keep up with new technologies and changing needs, he said.

"As medicine advances and the needs of our seniors change, Medicare must advance and improve as well," Bush said.

The president also called on Congress to send him a "strong patients' bill of rights." Bush plans to meet with House lawmakers Monday and Tuesday before departing for Europe on Wednesday, a senior administration official told CNN.

The Senate passed a patients' bill of rights June 29, but Bush has vowed to veto it, pushing instead for a GOP House initiative that limits a patient's right to sue his or her Health Maintenance Organization.

The Senate-backed bill would give nearly 200 million Americans new health care protections and grants them new rights to sue their HMOs.

In the Democratic radio address Saturday, Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota defended that bill, claiming it "protect[s] Americans from some unscrupulous health insurance providers."

"President Bush has stated that the patients' bill of rights legislation ... is dead on arrival," Johnson said. "If the president can't bring himself to sign a true patients' bill of rights, then he should let it become law without his signature just as he did when he was governor of Texas."

In their separate radio talks, Bush and Johnson also differed on coverage for prescription drugs as well, with the president pushing a plan he announced on Thursday to offer pharmacy discount cards to senior citizens for a fee.

Johnson called the discount card plan a "modest discount," adding that Senate Democrats "hope to accomplish a meaningful, universal, voluntary system that seniors can count on to provide access to drug coverage they simply don't have today."

Bush said he wants to offer senior citizens "a range of new Medicare plans, both government and private," all of which would include more comprehensive prescription drug coverage.

"We need to expand coverage, improve services, strengthen Medicare financing and give seniors more control over the health care they receive," he said.

Congress is expected to take up rival bills in the Senate this summer, with the most expensive version calling for all seniors to have their drug costs covered regardless of income.

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