Transcript: Clinton announces Medicare rescue plan
June 29, 1999
June 29, 1999
Web posted at: 4:02 p.m. EDT (2002 GMT)
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you.
Thank you. Thank you.
Please be seated. Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you very much, and good afternoon. I would like to welcome all of you to the White House. I appreciate the presence here of Secretary Shalala, Secretary Rubin, Deputy Secretary Summers, Social Security Commission Apfel, OPM Director Janice Lachance.
I thank all the people on the White House staff who are here who worked so hard on this proposal, including our OMB Director Jack Lew and Gene Sperling, Bruce Reed, Chris Jennings, and of course John Podesta.
I welcome the leaders of groups representing seniors, the disability community and the health care industry.
I would especially like to welcome the very large delegation of members of Congress who are here today. Four of them were here at the inception of Medicare: Senator Kennedy, Congressman Dingell, Congresswoman Mink and Congressman Conyers. This must be a particularly happy day for them.
I thank the senators who are here. Senator Daschle, Senator Roth, Senator Kennedy, Senator Conrad, Senator Baucus, Senator Dorgan, Senator Rockefeller and Senator Breaux.
[Gap in transcript]
And that if we're really committed to putting our people first, we can reach across party lines and other lines to work together.
And I am very grateful for their presence here and for the presence of all the members of Congress here from both parties. It augurs well for this announcement today and for the welfare of our republic.
In just a few days, we will celebrate the last Fourth of July of the 20th century -- 223 of them.
Our government, our country was created based on the ideal that we are all created equal; that we should work together to do those things that we cannot do on our own; and that we would have a permanent mission to form a more perfect union.
The people who got us started understood that each generation of Americans would be called upon to fortify and renew our nation's most fundamental commitments -- to always look to the future.
I believe our generation has begun to meet that sacred duty for at the dawn of a new century America is clearly a nation in renewal. Our economy is the strongest in decades, perhaps in our history. Our nation is the world's leading force for freedom and human rights, for peace and security, with our armed forces showing once again in Kosovo their skill, their strength and their courage.
Our social fabric, so recently strained, is on the mend with declining rates of welfare, crime, teen pregnancy and drug abuse, and 90 percent of our children immunized against serious childhood diseases for the first time in our history.
Our cities once in decline are again vibrant with economic and culture life. Even our rutted and congested interstate highways, thanks to the commitments of this Congress, are being radically repaired and expanded all across America -- I must say probably to the exasperation of some of our summer travelers.
This renewal is basically the consequence of the hard work of tens of millions of our fellow citizens.
It is also, however, clearly the result of new ideas and good decisions made here in this city, beginning with the fiscal discipline pursued since 1993 -- the reduction in the size of government and controlling spending while dramatically increasing investments in education, health care, biomedical research, the environment and other critical areas.
The vast budget deficits have been transformed into growing budget surpluses, and America is better prepared for the new century. But we have to use this same approach of fiscal discipline plus greater investment to deal with the great challenge that we and all other advance societies face: The aging of our nation. And in particular to deal with the challenge of Medicare, to strengthen and renew it.
Today I asked you here so that I could announce the details of our plan to secure and modernize Medicare for the 21st century. My plan will use competition and the best private sector practices to secure Medicare in order to control costs and improve quality, and it will devote a significant portion of the budget surplus to keep Medicare solvent.
But securing Medicare is not enough. To modernize Medicare, my plan will also create a much better match between the benefits of modern science and the benefits offered by Medicare. It will provide for more preventive care and help our seniors afford prescription drugs. The plan is credible, sensible and fiscally responsible.
It will secure the health of Medicare while improving the health of our seniors, and we can achieve it. The stakes are high.
In the 34 years since it was created, Medicare has eased the suffering and extended the lives of tens of millions of older and disabled Americans. It has given young families the peace of mind of knowing they will not have to mortgage their homes or their children's futures to pay for the health care of their parents and grandparents.
It has become so much a part of America, it is almost impossible to imagine America life without it. Yet life without Medicare is what we actually could get unless we act soon to strengthen this vital program.
With Americans living longer, the number of Medicare beneficiaries is growing faster, much faster, than the number of workers paying into the system. By the year 2015, the Medicare trust fund will be insolvent, just as the baby boom generation begins to retire and enter the system and eventually doubling the number of Americans who are over 65.
I've often said that this is a high class problem. It is the result of something wonderful -- the fact that we Americans are living a lot longer. All Americans are living longer, in no small measure because of better health care, much of it received through the Medicare program.
President Johnson said when he signed the Medicare bill in 1965: The benefits of this law are as varied and broad as the marbles of modern medicine itself.
Yet modern medicine has changed tremendously since 1965, while Medicare has not fully kept pace.
The original Medicare law was written at a time when patients' lives were more often saved by scalpels than by pharmaceuticals. Many of the drugs we now routinely use to treat heart disease, cancer, arthritis, did not even exist in 1965, yet Medicare still does not cover prescription drugs. Many of the procedures we now have to detect diseases early or prevent them from occurring in the first place did not exist in 1965. Yet Medicare has not fully adapted itself to these new procedures.
Many of the systems and organizations that the private sector uses to deliver services contain costs and improve quality, such as preferred provider organizations and pharmacy benefit managers, did not exist in 1965.
Yet under current law, Medicare cannot make the best use of these private sector innovations. Over the last six and a half years, we have taken important steps to improve Medicare. When I took office, Medicare was scheduled to go broke this year. But we took tough actions to contain costs, first in '93 and then with a bipartisan balanced budget agreement in 1997.
We have fought hard against waste, fraud and abuse in the system, saving tens of billions of dollars. These measures have helped to extend the life of the tropulation set to double in three decades, with the pace of medical science quickening, we must do more to fully secure and modernize Medicare for the 21st century.
The plan I release today secures the fiscal health of Medicare, first by providing what every objective expert has said Medicare must have if it is to survive: more resources to shore up its solvency.
As I promised in the state of the union address, the plan devotes 15 percent of the federal budget over 15 years to Medicare -- the federal budget surplus. That is the right way to use this portion of the surplus. There are a thousand ways to spend the surplus, all of them arguably attractive. But none more important than first guaranteeing our existing obligation to secure quality health care for our seniors. First things first.
In addition to these new resources, we must use the most modern and innovative means to keep Medicare spending in line, while rigorously maintaining, indeed improving, quality.
So the second part of the plan will bring to the traditional Medicare program the best practices from the private sector.
For instance, doctors who do a superior job of
caring for heart patients with complex medical conditions will
be able to offer patients lower co-payments, thus attracting
more patients, improving more lives, saving their patients and
the system money.
Third, the plan will use the forces of competition to keep
costs in line by empowering seniors with more and better
choices. Seniors can choose to save money by choosing lower
cost Medicare managed care plans under our plan without being
forced out of the traditional Medicare program by larger than
normal premium increases.
And we will make it easier for seniors to shop for coverage
based on price and quality, because all private plans that
choose to participate in Medicare will have to offer the same
core benefits. Consumers shouldn't be forced to compare apples
and oranges when shopping for their family's health care.
Fourth, we will take action to make sure that Medicare costs
do not shoot up after 2003 when most of the cost containment
measures put in place in 1997 are set to expire. And to make
sure that health care quality does not suffer, my plans
includes, among other things, a quality assurance fund to be
used if cost containment measures threaten to erode quality.
Given the debates we're having now on the
consequences of the decisions we made in 1997, I think that is a
very important thing to put in this plan.
These steps will secure Medicare for a generation, but we
should also modernize benefits as well. Over the years, as I
said earlier, medical care has advanced in ways that Medicare
We have a duty to see that Medicare offers seniors the best
and the wisest health care available. Once such rapidly
advancing area of treatment is preventive screening for cancer,
diabetes, osteoporosis and other conditions; screenings which if
done in time can save lives, improve the quality of life and cut
health care costs.
Therefore, my plan will eliminate the deductible and all co-
payments for all preventive care under Medicare.
It makes no sense for Medicare to put up roadblocks to these
screenings and then turn around and pick up the hospital bills
that screenings might have avoided.
No seniors should ever have to hesitate, as many do
today, to get the preventive care they need.
To help cover the cost of these and other crucial benefits
and strengthen the Medicare part B program, we will ask
beneficiaries to pay a small part of the cost of other lab tests
that are prone to overuse, and we will index the part B
deductible to inflation.
Nobody would devise a Medicare program today if we were
starting all over without including a prescription drug benefit.
There is -- there's a good reason for this.
We all know that these prescription drugs both save
lives and improve the quality of life. Yet Medicare currently
lacks a drug benefit. That is a major problem for millions and
millions of seniors, and not just those with low incomes.
Of the 15 million Medicare beneficiaries who lack
prescription drug benefits today, nearly half are middle class
And with prescription drug prices rising, fewer and fewer
retirees are getting drug coverage their former employers'
My plan will offer an affordable prescription drug benefit to
all Medicare recipients with additional help to those with lower
incomes paid for largely through the cost savings I have
It will cover half of all prescription drug costs up to
$5,000 a year when fully phased in with no deductible, all for a
modest premium that will less than -- that will be less than
half the price of the average private Medigap policy. It's
simple. If you choose to pay a modest premium, Medicare will
pay half of your drug prescription costs up to $5,000.
This is a drug benefit our seniors can afford at a price
America can afford.
Seniors and the disabled will save even more on
their prescription drugs under my plan because Medicare's
private contractors will get volume discounts that they could
never get on their own.
By relying on private sector managers, I believe that my plan
will help Medicare beneficiaries and ensure that America
continues to have the most innovative,
research-and-development-oriented pharmaceutical industry in the
With the steps I have outlined today, we an make a real
difference in our people's lives. And I believe the good
fortune we now enjoy obliges us to do so.
In a nation bursting with prosperity, no senior should have
to choose between buying food and buying medicine, but we know
I'll never forget the first time I ever met two seniors on
Medicare who looked at me and told me that they were choosing
every day between food and medicine.
That was almost seven years ago, but it still
At a time of soaring surpluses, no seniors should wind up in
the hospital for skimping on their medication to save money --
but that also happens today in 1999. At a moment of such
tremendous promise for America, no middle aged couple should
have to worry that Medicare will not be there when they retire;
that a lifetime's worth of investment and savings could be
swallowed up by medical bills.
If we want a secure life for our people, we must commit
ourselves as a country to secure and modernize Medicare and to
do it now. In the months before the election season begins, we
can put partisanship aside and make this a season of progress.
With our economy strong, our people confident, our budget in
surplus, I say again we have not just the opportunity, but a
solemn responsibility to fortify and renew Medicare for the 21st
It's the right thing to do for our parents and our
grandparents. It's the right thing to do for the children of
this country. It is the right thing to do so that when we need
it the burden of our health care cost does not fall on the
children and hurt their ability to raise our grandchildren.
Like every generation of Americans before us, our generation
has begun to fulfill our historic obligation to strength our
fundamental commitments and keep America a nation of permanent
Just a few days before our last Independence Day of this
century, let us commit again to do that with Medicare.
Thank you and God bless you.