The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 11, 2002

President Renews Call for Prescription Drug Coverage in Medicare
Hyatt Regency Minneapolis
Minneapolis, Minnesota

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President's Remarks
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     Fact sheet Policy in Focus: Medicare

2:50 P.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much for that warm welcome. I appreciate you coming out today and giving me a chance to talk about how do we work together to make America a more secure place and a better place for all of us. And part of making sure America is a better place for each and every one of us and a more secure place is to make sure we've got a health care system that is responsive and vibrant and alive and well and a place -- a system that will really relate to each and every one of us as an individual, give each and every one of us a chance as we grow older to have a health care system that we can be proud of and confident in.

That's why I started my day here in Minnesota at the University of Minnesota Medical School. You were probably wondering why Yudof was relevant. (Laughter and applause.) That's because he hosted me at a fine medical school. And there I had the honor and opportunity to talk to some fellow Minnesotans about how to advance medicine, some of the research that was taking place. I talked to some patients and heard from some of our elderly about how -- what kind of system was necessary to have the quality of life that we want for each and every one of us.

It's -- the key is to make sure that we advance medicine in a way that makes sure that our citizens get access to new drugs, new lifesaving drugs, unbelievably innovative drugs that have changed medicine as we know it. And it starts with making sure our seniors have got a guarantee of a prescription drug coverage in Medicare. That's where it ought to start. It ought to start with our seniors who have paid their dues. (Applause.)

And as we do so, as we look at Medicare to make sure it includes prescription drugs, we must make sure that whatever system evolves does not undermine the great innovations which take place in America. And that's important to remember, that as we debate this issue in Congress, as Congress debates the issue and of course I'm watching attentively (laughter) -- that we do not undermine the great strength of the American system, which is the capacity to be on the cutting edge of new technologies which save lives.

The House has passed a good first step, by the way, in reforming and making sure Medicare is modern and capable. And I hope the Senate acts quickly and gets a responsible bill into conference, so that we can get a bill to my desk and we can get moving to doing what is right for the American people.

I appreciate so very much Tommy Thompson traveling with me today. He is -- he has been a fine, fine Secretary of Health and Human Services. He was a great governor of Wisconsin, and he has brought a lot of innovation to -- (applause).

There's a lot of folks I could introduce. I want to introduce one other person, a person I had the opportunity to meet at the airport when I came in.

One of the things I like to do is to herald kind of the quiet heros of our society, those who volunteer to make their communities a better place. I met Pearl Lam Bergad when I came earlier today. I don't know if you've ever heard of Pearl Lam here in your community. But she has done a magnificent job of heralding the cultural life of Minnesota. She is a remarkable volunteer. Where are you, Pearl Lam? She's somewhere here. She must not have gotten a very good seat. (Laughter.) Oh, there you are, Pearl Lam. Please stand up, will you? Thank you for coming. (Applause.)

She's worked tirelessly to promote and improve cultural awareness in the community. She did so without any government agency telling her what to do. She did so because she wanted to serve. She did so because she had a talent she wanted to share. You see, the great strength of the country is the fact that we've got a nation full of people who really, honestly, decently care about the communities in which they live and want to do something about it. And so, Pearl Lam, I want to thank you on behalf of the thousands and millions of others in our country for volunteering. (Applause.)

I called up my friend Mark Yudof and invited myself here because Minnesota is one of the leading centers of health care innovation in our country. (Applause.) And that's saying a lot. People come from all around the world to come to the University of Minnesota's cancer center. I don't know if you know that or not, but that's one of the most famous cancer centers. We thought we were pretty good in Texas. (Laughter.) But you're really good here. This university performed the first successful bone marrow transplant and is one of the world's leaders in curing childhood leukemia and other cancers. There's a lot of incredible work going on right here in your neighborhood.

Patients from all over the globe have had their lives saved by heart devices and other medical products invented by the hundreds of medical companies that have their homes in what you call Medical Alley in the Minneapolis area, and I know we've got some of the -- some of the entrepreneurs, the medical entrepreneurs here with us today, and I want to thank you for your work and I want to thank you for employing people. (Applause.)

People from every corner of the world come to a clinic in southern Minnesota called Mayo Clinic. I know something about that, because my mother's on the board. (Laughter.) Whew, those must be amazing board meetings. (Laughter.) Sorry, Mom. (Laughter.)

But the Mayo Clinic's countless breakthroughs include effective drug treatment for tuberculosis and other diseases. And the clinic now has branches all across the country to make sure our seniors get the best possible health care.

I just met with a Mayo Clinic cardiologist named Doug Wood. I want to share a story he told me. I think it helps make my point about the need for us to stay on the cutting edge of drug therapy.

When he was a resident less than 25 years ago, the only real decision he had in treating a heart attack patient was how long to keep him or her in bed. That was the most important decision he had to make after the heart attack, how long will bed rest last. He could do more than just offer comfort and, knowing Doug, he offered a lot of comfort.

But today, thanks to progress in drug treatments, Dr. Wood uses a wide range of treatments to limit the damage from heart attack, to stop any further progress of the heart disease, and to prevent it from happening in the first place. In 25 short years, the ability for this healer to make a significant difference in the lives of those who have had heart diseases is amazing. It is a fantastic development in our society.

And the future promises even more breakthroughs. That's the exiting thing about America. Thanks to the rapidly evolving field of genetic medicine, doctors may soon be able to prescribe individually suited drugs based on their patients' genetic makeup. If you think about that, you've got a particular problem and the drug will be designed to meet your need, it's medicine at its most basic level.

But there's a problem, and I think we all recognize it now in our society and we need to do something about it. And no matter how exciting the new drug therapies are, they're oftentimes very costly. Because Medicare -- and what makes it even worse is that Medicare does not cover most prescription drugs. That's reality. Too many seniors, because that's the case -- because they're too costly, and Medicare doesn't cover them -- too many of our seniors are forced to chose between paying for their pills or paying basic bills. And that's not right in America. (Applause.)

And the reason why is because the Medicare system was designed for a different time. It's old. It is -- it served a noble purpose, and it made a huge difference in a lot of people's lives. But it was designed at a time, for example, when surgery was common. And the miraculous prescription drugs we have today were not only available -- not available, but some people hadn't even thought about them yet.

We need a Medicare system that is updated and modern, to serve the seniors of today with the medicine of today, and to be able to serve the seniors of tomorrow, guys like me, with the medicines of tomorrow. We need a system which works. (Applause.)

I support a prescription drug benefit in Medicare that allows seniors to chose the drug coverage that is best for them, that is best for them. I also support allowing and encouraging seniors to band together to use purchasing power to -- purchasing clout -- to be able to get lower drug -- prices on their drugs.

Now, what you need to know is that a full Medicare drug benefit will take some years to phase in. And that's why I think we need to have a Medicare endorsed prescription drug card immediately for our seniors. (Applause.) The card will allow seniors to gain access to manufacturer discounts on the drugs they use, as well as gain access to other valuable pharmaceutical services immediately. I talked about this last year. Court moved in there, and we're trying to get the court out of it. This is important for seniors.

I also support proposals like the one the House just passed, that will provide federal funds for immediate prescription drug assistance for seniors.

Now, the key is to make sure that we expand seniors' access to programs that help them work with their doctors to use the best treatments, too. And that includes better access to innovative disease management programs, like a program you have right here in Minnesota called Evercare.

You should have heard the testimony I heard, one from a loyal daughter whose mom is now in the Evercare Program, and another from a customer of Evercare, about the need to use Medicare Plus Choice to fund innovative programs that allow for seniors to feel like they're not a part of some giant bureaucracy but in fact treated on a basis that you'd want to be treated on. And that's what Evercare does. And those are the kinds of innovations we need throughout our system by giving seniors more choice in the system. (Applause.)

While we strengthen Medicare, we must also encourage innovation by preserving our private health care system the private health care system, which is the envy of the world.

In the report issued today that Tommy talked about, the Department of Health and Human Services says this. In countries which rely on government controls to keep health care costs down, presumably to keep health care costs down, the patient suffers. And that's important for you all to understand and to know. And it's important for those who advocate government control of all the health care in America to understand as well. The patient suffers.

If you want a health care system where the patient doesn't suffer but, in fact, benefits, we must be innovative and encourage a healthy private sector. When government determines which drugs are covered by health insurance, when government makes those decisions, the invariable results are this: there will be delays and inflexible limits on coverage of new treatments.

Costs might go down for seniors who are lucky enough to need the drugs that are on the government's list. But, as in the Canadian provinces and in many other countries, seniors who need drugs that are not on the government's list would have no alternative to get the coverage they prefer. All seniors have to wait for the government to decide what is covered, and that doesn't seem fair to me. And with prescription drugs, those delays can be life-threatening. And the heavy hand of government in other countries often does this, it discourages the costly and time-consuming investments in research necessary to discover new drugs.

I want you to understand these facts. Eight of the 10 top 10 best selling drugs in the world were developed by American companies. While we can expect that 34 out of the 55 breakthrough drugs entering the market this year will come from American companies. It is our companies and our researchers which are leading the world in finding the therapies necessary to save lives. And we've got to remember that. And therefore, we need to steer clear of direct government controls that stifle innovation and limit a patient's choice. (Applause.)

What's interesting is that more than half of our seniors have private drug coverage now because of their previous employment. And government should act to strengthen these private health insurance options, not replace them. By relying on competition and patient's choice, and innovative programs like Evercare, we will protect our seniors now, and offer many new lifesaving services to seniors in the future and preserve our private health care system.

When the founders of the Mayo Clinic started their practice over a century ago, they chose a clear principle to guide their work. The best interest of the patient is the only interest to be considered, that's the principle. Minnesota's immense and continuing contributions to biotechnology demonstrates that this is the right principle for our health care system.

As members of Congress act to provide a drug benefit in Medicare, I urge them to honor the principle I just outlined, by putting patient control and patient choice ahead of government control. (Applause.) If we do so, we can guarantee the continued vitality and productivity of America's private health care system, while providing the modern drug coverage that seniors so desperately need.

And that's part of making sure we have a secure America. Health security is part of being a secure America. The other thing we need to do to make sure we secure -- a lot of things we need to do to make sure we secure America -- one is to make sure we continue to grow our economy. Job security is important for a secure America.

But I want to just tell you real quickly about how I'm thinking about the war on terror, while I've got you stuck here. (Laughter.) The war goes on. We face an enemy who is -- they like to hide, and they'll go to the big cities in some of these countries and think they're invisible. And sometimes we don't hear from them for a while. But you need to know, they're still plotting and planning. These are the ones that go into caves and send their youngsters to the death. They themselves hide, and get somebody else to carry on their mission, sometimes suicide missions.

They're out their still. They still hate America, because we love freedom. They hate us because we value the fact that people should worship freely. The more free we are, the more desperate they become. They like to find countries that are soft, kind of burrow in and try to plan. And you just need to know we're doing everything we can to disrupt them. The doctrine still holds, either you're with the United States of America and freedom-loving countries, or you're with the terrorists. (Applause.)

We have over 60,000 troops overseas, 8,000 still in Afghanistan. As you know, Afghanistan is still a dangerous place. And we're going to stay there until a stable government emerges, until we complete our mission. We're -- any time we get in a hint in a place like Afghanistan, we're moving, and we're moving with some of the finest Americans ever produced, those who wear our uniform. (Applause.)

This is a different kind of war. In the past, you'd see tank movements or airplane formations. This is like hunting down a bunch of cold-blooded killers, that's what it's like. And that's all they are, by the way. And we're after 'em one at a time, one person at a time. We've -- when I talked about the need for us to establish a Department of Homeland Security, I announced -- part of my announcement was that I told the people that we had hauled in -- "we" being our friends, as well as ourselves -- hauled in over 2,400 of these terrorists. That's in less than a year's time. So we're making progress, one person at a time. (Applause.)

Our goal is to get 'em on the run, and keep 'em on the run, so they have no place to light, or no place to hide. And it's going to take a while. The American people understand that, that's positive. That's good news for us, and bad news for the enemy. The American people understand that we've got a new challenge, because we understand when somebody attacks our values, the values we hold dear, it doesn't matter how long it takes, we'll defend them.

I've submitted a bill -- an appropriations request to the Congress, which is a significant increase in our defense spending. And I did it for two reasons. One is, I firmly believe that any time we commit our young into harm's way, they deserve the best pay, the best training, the best equipment possible. (Applause.)

And two, it's a signal to the enemy and to our friends and allies that we're in this for the long run. There is no time certain as to when we quit. There is not a calendar that says, by such and such a moment, you've got to stop, Mr. President. For however long it takes, we defend our freedoms. History has called America into action, and America America will act, because we're a nation that stands for tremendous values. We love freedom. We love freedom. (Applause.) And anybody that tries to take it away --

I also want you to know this, that out of the evil done to America is going to come some good, I firmly believe that. I believe it. (Applause.) I want the youngsters here to understand when you hear your President talk about getting them and rounding them up, that I yearn for peace. And I believe, I believe we can achieve peace. I believe that when this country remains strong and steadfast and resolved, we can achieve peace, peace not only for our own people, but peace in parts of the world where people have never dreamt of peace in a while. (Applause.)

That's the legacy this generation will leave behind, by being tough and doing what it takes to win the war on terror, we'll leave peace for our children and our grandchildren. I'll tell you what else is going to happen here, as a result of the evil done to America, there's going to be some incredible good here at home, too. I believe people have taken a step back, and asked, what's important in life? You know, the bottom line and this corporate America stuff, is that important? Or is serving your neighbor, loving your neighbor like you'd like to be loved yourself?

I gave a speech at Ohio State University, at their graduation, and I was pleased to see that 70 percent of the seniors in the class had served their community, one way or the other. They understand that a life in America is most complete when you help a neighbor in need, when you volunteer your time. That in America, being a patriot is more than just putting your hand over your heart, and saying, "one nation under God." (Applause.) It also means loving a neighbor. It means mentoring a child.

You see, in spite of our richness, there are pockets of despair and hopelessness and loneliness and addiction that we must address. The enemy hit us, and I believe they finally -- they helped wake up a spirit of personal responsibility, a spirit that says, being an American means you've got to help a neighbor in need, as well as saluting your flag.

And it's happening in this country, it's happening. And I believe that out of the evil done to America is going to come a society in which the great American experience and the great American hopes extends into all neighborhoods, where people realize that they're fortunate to live in the greatest land I mean the greatest on the face of the Earth. And it's my honor to be your President. (Applause.)

I want to thank you all I want to thank you all for giving me a chance to come by and talk about an issue that's important for today and tomorrow, and that is quality health care for our seniors. And thank you for giving me a chance to be the President of the greatest nation on the face of the earth. God bless, and God bless America. (Applause.)

END 3:18 P.M. CDT


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