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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration Officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Tommy Thompson, Secretary of Health and Human Services
October 29, 2003

Tommy Thompson
Hello again, we just came from an event with the President and a group of seniors to discuss how we get past the finish line on the historic legislation to modernize Medicare. Am happy to take a few of your questions.

Spec, from Grantham, NH writes:
All Federal employees have what is said to be an excellent health care benefit - far better than the "one size fits all" Medicare program. Doesn't my Mother deserve as good a plan as federal employees have? Will you work to add competition and individual choice to Medicare?

Tommy Thompson
Absolutely your mother deserves the same choices that I get and all members of congress have as well as all federal employees and this is exactly what the president and this administration are trying to accomplish. we are making great progress in congress and are very much in hopes that we will get a bill passed through both houses of congress that the president can sign this year that will give your mother that choice.

Tom, from New York City writes:
I am lost as to why Congress doesn't set up Medicare exactly like the members of the government have their health plans. I know it is often discussed, but have yet to hear a good answer. Can you supply one?

Tommy Thompson
Congress is currently working on a proposal that was advanced by the president and his administration to give every senior a choice based upon the federal employee’s health benefit plan called FEHBP. We are at the 11th hour on the 10 yard line and we are hoping and anticipating that we can score a touchdown and pass the bill and have the president sign it before the year's end.

Kevin, from Wisconsin writes:
Secretary Thompson: Greetings from the Great State of WISCONSIN Glad to have you in the position you are in and you are always welcome to come back after your tenure and lead our great state forward again as Governor.

A concern about Medicare that I have heard from many people is the level of payment. Many times fees are much higher than what Medicare pays. Unless you have supplemental insurance (which costs more and more every year) you are stuck. Can you tell me if anything is being done to evaluate, and if necessary, adjust payment levels?

Thanks for your time and keep up the good work.

Tommy Thompson
We are currently looking at the total Medicare system and as we are in the process of adding prescription drug coverage we are adjusting payments reimbursement formulas and putting a more modernistic way of giving seniors medical care especially by providing preventative care and more attention to keeping our seniors healthy.

Blake, from New York writes:
What do you think of Rep. Lowey's assertion yesterday that the Center for Medicare and Medicaid has turned a blind eye to modern medicine?

Tommy Thompson
One of the big failings of the current Medicare system is that it is so government controlled and restrictive and what we are trying to do is modernize Medicare and especially add things to the current Medicare system that will provide seniors options to pick and choose different integrated plans that will better serve an individual and his or her family. And at the same time restructuring Medicare to provide more preventative care such as physicals, managing diseases and providing screenings that will save dollars but more importantly will improve the quality of health of seniors.

Trevor, from Madison writes:
Do you miss the politics in Wisconsin at all? We loved you? Or are politics just politics -- just in another location?

Tommy Thompson
As you know I love Wisconsin and Wisconsin politics and certainly miss both but I am in a position in which I can help the president and reform a very stretched and stressed healthcare system and that is very important to me and we are accomplishing a lot especially now with the revitalization and re-constituted Medicare law that we are currently 10 yards from the goal line in accomplishing.

Teno, from Dallas writes:
I read in the newspaper last week that sometimes you snatch away cigarettes from employees at HHS. Is that true? I say, "good job to that."

Tommy Thompson
Thank you I do a lot of things that are probably a little bit that are out of the normal management type of operations by actually requesting people not to smoke and do, on occasion, rip up their cigarettes and at the same time telling them I love them and I want them to be healthy and I need them to be at their best and tobacco will only harm them and prevent them from being constructive. Thank you for your question and I also hope that you are watching your diet, exercising and not smoking.

Richard, from Oregon writes:
Will there be a Medicare bill passed this year?

Tommy Thompson
Nobody can say for sure but we have made great progress in moving the ball down the field. We are currently on the 10 yard line and everybody on both sides are working very hard to cover the remaining 10 yards , score the touchdown and have the president sign the bill with a two point conversion.

Brent, from Washington DC writes:
Senators Grassley and Baucus included provisions in the Senate Medicare legislation that adddress the inequities in Medicare reimbursement for physicians in predominantly rural areas such as your home state, Wisconsin. Will you, Secretary Thompson, and President Bush support Senator Grassley' and Baucus' determination to correct this is inequity?

Tommy Thompson
Brent, I not only support but enthusiastically push it. The rural package advanced by senators Baucus and Grassley. As you probably know I fought the same fight when I was governor of Wisconsin and pledged to make a difference on the subject when I came to Washington and am delighted that are coming close to an improvement on the reimbursement formulas for the rural areas including my home state of Wisconsin.

Brooke, from West Chester, PA writes:
During the 2000 presidential campaign there was much discussion about medicare and prescription medication for the elderly. In terms of meeting the goals of the campaign, what has been done since the Bush Administration arrived in Washington?

Tommy Thompson

The republicans and democrats have been talking about Medicare changes and added prescription drug coverage for years but it has taken the leadership of one man -- our president George W. Bush -- to actually initiate a plan that has a good chance of passage. A plan that will reform, revitalize and add prescription drugs to the current Medicare system. And I am absolutely delighted through his leadership and support of this very important issue. And I am hopeful you will support him as well.

Tommy Thompson
I want to thank you for being on "ASk the White House" and it has been a good session, and I appreciate the opportunity to answer the questions and wish you all the best. Best wishes, Tommy Thompson

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