For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
August 9, 2004
Mrs. Bush's Remarks to the Pennsylvania Medical Society
Sheraton Bucks County Hotel
11:32 A.M. EDT
MRS. BUSH: Thank you all very, very much. I'm so happy to be here today in Bucks County and in Pennsylvania. As all of you know, Pennsylvania is a very key state for this election. And I know the results will be close, like they were last time. But George and I are confident that, with your help, he'll win the state on November 2nd. (Applause.)
In any political race, you need strong allies. And today, I'm so happy to welcome three new allies to the Bush-Cheney team. As Dr. Marilyn Heine said, the Pennsylvania Medical Society's PAC is -- the Pennsylvania Medical Society is actually the largest association of doctors in this state. And for the first time ever, their political action committee is making an endorsement in a presidential election. And I'm so proud that that endorsement is for President George W. Bush. (Applause.)
PAMPAC is being joined by two other groups -- the Politically Active Physicians Association and the Pennsylvania Orthopedic Society -- in their endorsements. Thank you all very, very much. (Applause.)
The President and I are very, very grateful for your support. Thank you, Dr. Heine and thanks also to Dr. Dick Schmidt and to Dr. James Tayoun and to Dr. Anne Honebrink. Thank you all for being up here with me. And I think Congressman Jim Greenwood is here in the crowd. I want to thank him for his 12 years of service. Thank you so much. Thank you, Congressman. (Applause.) Thank you for being with us today.
And I'm grateful to Mike Fitzpatrick for his work for President Bush in Bucks County. Thank you, Mike. (Applause.) And a special thanks to all the Pennsylvania elected officials who are here.
I want to thank Father Jim Brennan for his invocation and Tony Albano for his service to our nation and for leading the Pledge of Allegiance. And I especially appreciate Erin Zezzo for sharing her story with everyone. The experiences like Erin's highlight the magnitude of the medical liability crisis. The members of the medical associations endorsing the President today know that President Bush is working hard to make high-quality health care more affordable and more accessible for all Americans. And you know that the issue of medical liability reform -- that on the issue of medical liability reform, President Bush stands on the side of doctors and patients. (Applause.)
It's tragic that the medical liability reform crisis has reached the point where good doctors are being forced to shut down their practices, retire early, or move to other states with better liability reform measures because they can't afford to practice medicine. Some liability insurance rates have doubled or tripled in just the last year or two. Hospitals like St. Mary's and Frankford Bucks are losing doctors. And some communities have seen their closest emergency room close its doors, forcing patients to spend a longer time at moments when every second counts.
This growing crisis affects all Americans, and it's a particular concern to women. Obstetricians have some of the highest medical liability premiums. Rates for OB/GYNs in Pennsylvania have increased by 125 percent since 1998. As the rates go up, doctors are leaving their practices. The American College of Obstetricians reports that in 2002, nearly a third of their members reduced their obstetrical practices and 12 percent reduced their surgical practices because of the high rates of medical liability.
Doctors who once helped to bring hundreds of new babies into the world are no longer delivering babies. Women like Erin Zezzo, who spent years building a trusting relationship with their OB/GYN are left searching for a new doctor, sometimes while they wait for the arrival of their baby. Medical liability is a complex issue, but the primary reason rates are skyrocketing is that America's legal system looks more and more like a lottery for lawyers. (Applause.)
Without checks on the system, lawyers push juries to award huge judgments to plaintiffs. Studies show that the median liability award jumped from $700,000 to $1,000,000 in just one year. And many insurance companies now settle even dubious claims out of court, fearing the excessive amounts that may result if they go to trial. The problem extends beyond doctors and beyond dollars. When frivolous or junk lawsuits fill our courts, it's harder for people who are truly injured to get justice. And hospitals are hesitant to improve patient care, because they fear that reviewing or changing treatment methods could leave them open to litigation.
President Bush has offered common sense solutions to the crisis of junk lawsuits in America, one that will help injured people, not enrich trial lawyers. (Applause.) The President wants to protect the rights of injured patients, to get full compensation quickly for their economic losses. This includes medical expenses, loss of income or potential income, and damages like the cost of child care when a parent is injured.
At the same time, noneconomic damages like pain and suffering awards would be capped. The President proposes a cap of $250,000 over and above the economic damages that are awarded. Reports show that in states with caps like the one the President proposes, medical liability insurance rates rose about 10 percent in a year. In states that didn't have caps, insurance rates rose nearly three times as much.
The benefits of medical liability reform would be felt across our country. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, medical liability reform would save at least $60 billion in health care costs every year. And a congressional committee estimated that medical liability reform would help nearly four million Americans get health insurance. This would make health care more affordable and more accessible for us all. (Applause.)
We're fortunate in America to enjoy the best health care in the world. And it's time to put the focus back on patients and doctors. To preserve doctor/patient relationships, we need medical liability reform. (Applause.)
To bring down the cost of health care, we need medical liability reform. And to help more people get insurance, we need medical liability reform. (Applause.)
President Bush has already asked Congress to pass a good reform bill. And when he's reelected, he'll work with Congress until the job is done. (Applause.)
The President understands that health care is central to every American's economic security. No one can feel secure if they feel that their next illness might wipe out their savings or drive them into debt. That's why the President is taking a comprehensive approach to making high-quality affordable health care available to millions more Americans. (Applause.)
One of the achievements that the President is most proud of is the new Medicare prescription drug bill. After people in Washington spent years talking about helping seniors pay for their medication, the President finally delivered results. (Applause.) Today, seniors have access to prescription drug discount cards that offer real savings on medicines and more than four million seniors have signed up. And in 2006, the full prescription drug benefit will go into effect. At that time, seniors will be able to cut their drug costs roughly in half for a low monthly premium. (Applause.)
The Medicare bill also offers a new option for insurance coverage that all Americans can take advantage of, and that's health savings accounts. These accounts enable people to buy a low-premium, high-deductible insurance plan and use tax-free savings to pay for routine health expenses like eyeglasses or prescriptions. And President Bush has proposed making the cost for the premium of these insurance policies tax-free as well. (Applause.)
The President believes that income should not be a barrier to getting quality health care. His administration has helped states expand Medicaid and S-CHIP eligibility to more than 2.5 million people since 2001. Last year, nearly six million children who otherwise would not have had health coverage had access to medical care thanks to S-CHIP.
My husband has worked to expand community health centers across America so that all Americans can receive good health care regardless of their ability to pay. One out of every four low-income child in America gets health care at a community health center. Thanks to the President's efforts, community health centers now serve three million more Americans than they did in 2001 -- a total of 13 million people annually at nearly 4,000 sites. (Applause.)
All of these initiatives have made health care more affordable and more available for Americans. And the President has plans to do even more. He has proposed a refundable tax credit to help low-income Americans purchase health insurance and he strongly supports association health plans which would enable small businesses to pool to buy medical coverage for their employees at a lower rate.
President Bush also wants to maximize the benefits of information technology, like electronic medical records, so that doctors and nurses can better monitor treatments and reduce errors and patients can go from doctor to doctor with their complete medical history.
The Department of Health and Human Services is working to create a safe and secure way to restore medical records electronically, and the President has set an ambitious goal to make sure most Americans have electronic health records within the next decade. (Applause.)
My husband has been focused on health care from the very start of his administration and I have been talking about health care, too. For years, I talked about women's cancers and health diseases. And recently, when I learned that heart disease is the leading killer -- the leading cause of death among women in America, I took up this issue as well. This news came as a surprise to me. Like many women, I assumed that cancer took more lives than heart disease. But, in fact, heart disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined. One of the reasons heart disease is so deadly for women is that women don't know they're at risk. They think of heart attacks as a man's disease.
I joined the Heart Truth campaign sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to get the word out to women. I've traveled around the country talking to women about their risk, encouraging them to learn the symptoms associated with a heart attack, and promoting the importance of a healthy lifestyle. And I hope that all of you will do the same. Talk to your female patients and talk to your colleagues. Often primary care physicians and OB/GYNs are the only doctor a woman visits during the entire course of a year. When physicians talk to their patients and when they pay attention to symptoms, lives will be saved.
We can also save lives through medical research. And I'm pleased that George is committed to advancing medical research. Last year, he fulfilled the pledge to double the budget for the National Institutes of Health, and he's requested $2.4 billion for next year. This money will support research that leads to new and better treatments for heart disease and many other illnesses. (Applause.)
And although you might not know about it from listening to the news lately, the President also looks forward to medical breakthroughs that may arise from stem cell research. (Applause.) Few people know that George W. Bush is the only President to ever authorize federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. (Applause.)
Last year, the federal government invested $25 million in embryonic stem cell research and nearly $191 million in other stem cell research, adult stem cell research. (Applause.) Many millions more are spent in the private sector. The President has provided a boost to research in a very promising new field, while recognizing that this is an issue with moral implications that must not be treated lightly. (Applause.)
My father died of Alzheimer's disease and I share the President's eagerness to find a cure for this devastating illness. I hope that stem cell research will yield cures and therapies for a myriad of illnesses. But I know that embryonic stem cell research is very preliminary right now, and the implication that cures for Alzheimer's are around the corner is just not right, and it's really not fair to the people who are watching a loved one suffer with this disease.
Research does offer the advancement of scientific knowledge and a growing understanding of how stem cells can be used to treat illness. The President's policy makes it possible for researchers to explore the potential of stem cells, while respecting the ethical and moral implications associated with this research. (Applause.)
As President, my husband has met the toughest issues head on. He believes that his duty -- the responsibility of every leader -- is to find solutions to problems, not pass them on to future Presidents and future generations. (Applause.)
Just as he has taken the lead to improve and expand health care, President Bush has strengthened our economy. He has improved America's schools and he has promoted security and freedom around the world. (Applause.) Thanks to the President's tax relief plan, millions of families are keeping more of their own money and deciding how to use it. (Applause.) More than 4.6 million people right here in Pennsylvania are paying lower taxes.
After enduring a recession, terrorist attacks and corporate scandals, we're now enjoying strong economic growth. (Applause.) More Americans than ever before know the pride of home ownership, and more minority families own homes now than ever before. In fact, more than half of minority families now own their own homes. (Applause.)
And here in Pennsylvania, you created 20,000 new jobs in the month of June alone. This is great progress. (Applause.)
Yet the President has made it clear that he will not be satisfied until every American who wants to work can find a job. His commitment to lower taxes and efforts to encourage investment will help ensure that our economy keeps growing until prosperity reaches every corner of America. (Applause.)
Education is also close to the President's heart and to mine. The No Child Left Behind Act is bringing more money, higher standards and stronger accountability to schools throughout America. Now we have clear goals for education. Every child should read by the third grade, because reading is the foundation and fundamental for all other learning.
We're assessing students' progress every year in elementary school, to make sure children don't fall through the cracks and get shuffled on through without learning. And with a new emphasis on high standards and accountability, every student will graduate high school well prepared to go on to college or into the work force. (Applause.)
We're also sharing the blessings of liberty with our neighbors abroad. The terrible acts of September 11th showed us the face of evil in the world, but they also called us to the great work of promoting freedom and democracy. Today, 50 million more men, women and children live in freedom thanks to the United States of America. (Applause.)
Because we acted, al Qaeda's biggest supporters, the Taliban, were driven from power and the people of Afghanistan were liberated from their oppressor. Today, women can walk freely on the streets in public without male supervision and millions of girls are going to school. (Applause.)
Afghanistan's new constitution protects the right of all people to speak freely and to vote and they'll participate in their first election next month. In fact, nearly nine million Afghans have already registered to vote, despite terror threats and intimidation from the remnants of the old regime. (Applause.)
In Iraq, the brave men and women of our military, along with our allies, toppled Saddam Hussein's government and liberated the Iraqi people. (Applause.)
The new Iraqi interim government has the full support of the United Nations, the European Union and NATO. And we'll stand with the Iraqi people during this hopeful time for their nation. We still face challenges every day, but we know that there's no safe alternative to resolute action.
I'm proud of my husband for recognizing the challenges that America faces at home and abroad and for taking action to meet them. I'm proud of my husband for so many reasons, not least of which is the dignity and respect he shows for every person he meets. (Applause.)
George has worked hard on behalf of all Americans from the day he took the Oath of Office, and now it's time, during this election season, for us to go to work for him. The endorsement of the Pennsylvania Medical Society's PAC is a great honor for a President who prides himself on putting the needs of patients and doctors at the top of his health care agenda. Thank you all for that. (Applause.)
I want to encourage you to talk to your neighbors and your friends and your colleagues about the President's vision to move America forward. Sign up with the campaign and make phone calls or go door to door. These are hopeful times for our country. We're moving America forward and we have great confidence in our ability to overcome any challenge. These are times that require particularly strong and determined leaders, and I'm proud that my husband is that kind of leader. (Applause.)
Thank you all. Thank you so much for your hard work to reelect President Bush, and thank you for your friendship. May God bless you and may God bless America. Thank you. (Applause.)
12:00 P.M. EDT