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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 17, 2005

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan and Dr. Mark McClellan, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
Aboard Air Force One
En route Minneapolis, Minnesota

9:29 A.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: All right, let me start off. The President taped his radio address this morning. As I indicated yesterday, I believe, it'll focus on the economy and Iraq and the war on terrorism. Then he had his usual briefing.

When we land we'll first be going to the Maple Grove Community Center and the President will visit a seniors center there, where he'll see a training session of volunteers on Medicare enrollment. I'll let my brother here talk about that more in a minute. And then he'll participate in a conversation on Medicare with Dr. McClellan and a volunteer from the community center, as well as the head of the community center, I believe, and two pharmacists, I believe, are also on that panel.

Then when we return this afternoon, the President will head to Camp David for the weekend. And that's really all I have to begin with. I'm going to turn it over to Mark, who will give you a quick summary of what to expect today, and then he'll be here for whatever questions you have. And if you have any additional ones, I'll be around after that.

DR. McCLELLAN: The President talked yesterday about a broad national effort at the grass-roots level to reach people with Medicare and their family members and others who care about people with Medicare to make sure they get the facts about the new prescription drug coverage that's coming on January 1st. The President and all of us want people to get the facts so that they can make a confident decision about what to do with the new Medicare coverage.

An important part of that effort is partnerships around the country. Many volunteers, such as the ones that the President is meeting with today, are helping with this outreach and education effort. At the training session that he'll be visiting, there will be representatives from the Social Security Administration. Social Security is working with us to help identify and educate and enroll lower income Medicare beneficiaries in the extra help that's available through the Medicare prescription drug coverage.

Because people with limited incomes have been a hard population to reach in previous new government benefits, we are starting early. The President talked about yesterday there is a straightforward application, it's four pages, 16 questions - that's quite different from the usual way these enrollment processes work, where often a Medicaid application requires more than 20 pages, several visits to a state office and lots of attached documentation, like tax records or financial records. For this lower income outreach effort, we've got a four-page application with no attachments required; Social Security is mailing these out to people who are likely to be eligible. And we're taking many other steps to make sure people who are likely to be eligible find out about it.

The reason it's so important is because the extra help from Medicare for people with limited means can pay for 95 percent or more of their prescription drug costs on average, starting in January. And if they fill out this application and are eligible, we'll get them into drug coverage, this comprehensive drug coverage next year.

The President will also hear about the outreach efforts that we're undertaking with many other groups around the country: pharmacists, health professionals, volunteer organizations, seniors groups like the AARP, coalitions that are coming together - even including some members who didn't support the original Medicare bill - to make sure that people get the facts and can take advantage of the new coverage next year. As the President said yesterday, right now the focus is on building awareness for all Medicare beneficiaries and the people who care about them, and also to help people with limited incomes find out about the extra help.

In the fall, people will have more specific information about what the new Medicare drug coverage means for them, and we're letting them know about what to expect for the fall, when all the information will be available. So this will get us on track to enabling people with Medicare to make a confident decision about the prescription drug coverage.

MR. McCLELLAN: Any questions for Mark?

Q Are you convinced that it's as simple as it can be, or is it still a little bit too complicated for some people? The form, even the four-page form?

DR. McCLELLAN: For the limited income subsidy, the Social Security Administration worked with us and many outside groups to make it as simple as possible. And if you compare this application to every other previous application for an extra help program, like food stamps or Medicaid or supplemental security income, this is far, far simpler. As I said, it's just 16 questions. Most people don't even need to answer all the questions. And, in fact, if people can just fill out part of it and send it in, we'll call them back and help them fill out the rest.

We're also starting very early - this is more than six months before the coverage begins - to give people plenty of opportunities to learn about it. And we're working with literally hundreds of outside organizations to get the word out. All of these are new steps, things that have not been done before for important new government programs like this one.

Q This is available to anyone who has Medicare, right? Anyone who -

DR. McCLELLAN: There are two parts. There is the Medicare benefit, which is available to everyone with Medicare; they will get help paying for their drug costs. And for a typical person, Medicare will pay for more than half of their cost of prescription drugs. And Medicare will also provide peace of mind for high medical expenses - if you have high, out-of-pocket costs, Medicare will pick up 95 percent of the costs beyond $3,600.

But for people with limited incomes, like most of those living on a Social Security check, Medicare is providing extra help. So if you're a couple with an income below about $19,000, a single person with an income below about $15,000, Medicare will pay, on average, 95 percent of your costs. And there's an application available now for that extra help. Then in the fall, everyone will be able to make a decision about taking advantage of the Medicare coverage, but the people with limited incomes get extra help. And altogether, it's about a third of Medicare beneficiaries that are eligible for this extra help, so it's not just people who think of themselves as low income, but most of the people who are living on a fixed income, just from Social Security.

Q How many people do you think will sign up by the deadline of January 1?

DR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are a lot of projections out about that. And the deadline isn't January 1st; seniors - as the President said yesterday, the date to circle is November 15th, that's when the coverage starts, that's when you can start signing up. And people can sign up all the way until May 15th of 2006. So we've got 11 months that we're going to be working to make sure people can make an informed decision.

I think a lot of people aren't going to sign up right on January 1st. I think some people will think about it. I do think millions of people will be enrolled at the beginning of the year or early in the year. This includes millions of people who've really been struggling with their drug costs and are going to get this extra limited income help; and millions more who have retiree coverage and are now going to get new help from Medicare; and millions more who are in the Medicare Advantage health plans, who can get some drug coverage today and they're going to get even more. And I think that there are going to be more people beyond that who sign up right away, but a lot of people are going to spend some time thinking about it - and that's fine, that's why we want to give them the whole six-month period to make a decision.

MR. McCLELLAN: All right, anything else for Mark?

Q Mark, what's your exact title?

DR. McCLELLAN: It's Dr. Mark McClellan, and I'm the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or the head of the Medicare program, Medicare Chief, something like that, if you want to shorten it down.

MR. McCLELLAN: "Older brother," you can just refer to him as that. (Laughter.)

DR. McCLELLAN: That works, too.

MR. McCLELLAN: All right, thanks, Mark.

DR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Anything else for me before I go to the week ahead?

Q I have one thing. There are reports this morning that both Bill Thomas and Chuck Grassley have given up trying to get Republican support for personal accounts and they're going to bring to the floors of their respective Houses a bill that doesn't have personal accounts. Is the administration okay with that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure -- which reports are you referring to?

Q The Wall Street Journal story that says that pretty much that both chairmen have given up trying to find a majority support in their committees.

MR. McCLELLAN: We're working very closely with Congress to save Social Security for future generations. This is an important part of what the President talks about when he talks about economic security. Retirement security is a critical component of people's economic security, and the President believes very strongly that we need to not only make it permanently sound, but we also need to make it a better deal. And that's why personal accounts are so important. And the President is going to continue advocating for an approach that fixes the hole in the safety net for future generations, and also makes it a better deal for future generations by allowing them to realize a greater rate of return on their retirement savings.

We believe that personal accounts are an important part of the solution. So we'll be continuing to work with members of Congress. We're pleased that these two leaders are committed to moving forward on Social Security, on saving Social Security and they're doing so in their respective committees.

Q Do you think the two issues could be separated? In other words, you can move a solvency bill now and then come back later and take a look at the personal accounts again?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me reiterate that we believe that making it permanently sound and making it a better deal are both an important part of solving and - not only - well, of saving and strengthening Social Security. We want to save it and strengthen it, and that's why personal accounts are so important.

Q So it should be simultaneously tackled, is that -

MR. McCLELLAN: We're going to continue to work with members of Congress. I mean, we're not going to get into trying to negotiate on Air Force One or from the podium. We're continuing to work closely with members of Congress to get it done this year.

Q What do you think the chances of getting it done this year are? I mean, it looks like it's a long way off -

MR. McCLELLAN: One thing I'm going to be talking about, or mentioning in the week ahead is the President next week will be participating in another conversation on Social Security. This is a high priority and the American people recognize that there are major problems facing Social Security. You've had a few Democrats in the House that have broken with the leadership and said we need to put forward solutions. And the President is going to continue working with all those who are committed to getting something done.

It's unfortunate that the Democratic leadership is still trying to block efforts to solve this important priority.

Q But the Democrats are saying that the President is being obstructionist and refusing to negotiate, only if personal accounts are on the table. Why won't you take personal accounts off the table?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President has made it very clear he welcomes all ideas for finding a solution. The Democrats - the Democratic leadership, I should say - because, I mean, you have President Clinton who has come out and said the Democrats need to put forward ideas and solutions for saving Social Security. The Democrats now acknowledge, after a few months ago saying that it wasn't a problem, they're now saying well, it is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. But they're not coming to the table with ideas, and the American people expect better - they want people coming to the table with solutions. They're not offering any solutions, all they're doing is simply trying to block getting something done and making this better for future generations.

Q Scott, The Washington Post is reporting that the U.S. is the one country that's sort of resisting elements in the G8 deal to take a strong stand against global warming and trying to water down some of the language. Why is the U.S. not meeting the rest of the other seven countries on their terms?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that that's just an inaccurate characterization. Let me tell you why, because the G8 summit is coming up and any time you have a summit like this you're going to have some pre-summit discussion and negotiation going on. This is all part of the pre-summit discussions and negotiation. We want to make sure that there is a consensus to move forward in a practical way to address important priorities. And we are focused on results and moving forward to address the long-term challenges of climate change. And that means investing in new technologies and working in partnership with others to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And that's what we're doing.

So this is the usual pre-summit negotiations and discussions that go on any time there is a G8 summit.

Q Are you disputing The Washington Post characterization that there would be a consensus if the U.S. would come aboard? I mean -

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, we've been working with other countries to reach a consensus and that's what we're in the process of doing.

Q It suggests the U.S. is the one holdout, so it would be a consensus if the U.S. -

MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't describe it that way. This is all part - as I said, it's all part of the usual pre-summit discussions and negotiations.

Q So does "long-term" mean we don't have to do anything right now?

MR. McCLELLAN: We are doing - we are acting right now. We're leading the way on a lot of initiatives. Let me remind you we have put forward the methane-to-markets approach, working in partnership with others to significantly reduce that greenhouse gas emission and to also provide cleaner burning electricity. We are leading the way when it comes to investing billions in research to better understand the challenges of climate change. We're leading the way and working with others to invest in new technologies that are needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

So the facts just point to the - I mean, the facts contradict what you just said.

Q Scott, how do you react to the new - I guess, The New York Times/CBS poll numbers about efforts to bring stability and order in Iraq, now 60 percent, up from 47 percent in February, of people being troubled by what they're seeing? How do you react to that -

MR. McCLELLAN: I kind of talked about it a little bit yesterday. I think the President is going to - in terms of the situation in Iraq, you're going to hear more from the President in his radio address, when he talks about it. Remember what I said yesterday, it's important to keep the American people informed about the progress being made in Iraq, the difficulties and dangers that remain and our strategy for succeeding and getting our troops home. We all want to see our troops return soon. The President wants to see our troops return soon.

But I think no matter where you stood prior to the decision to go into Iraq, we can all recognize that the terrorists have made Iraq the central front in the war on terrorism. That's why it's so critical that we succeed in Iraq. And our troops are doing a tremendous job to complete the mission. The terrorists recognize they can't defeat the coalition troops and the Iraqi forces, so they're trying to shake our resolve, and that's all they can do. But the Iraqi people have shown that they are committed to moving forward on a free and democratic future. Each step of the way the Iraqi people have proven the skeptics wrong. They have turned out in large numbers to elect a transitional government. That transitional government is moving forward on drafting a constitution. We're confident that the Iraqi people will continue to defy the skeptics. There has been significant progress made in one year.

But the enemy is a determined enemy. They are terrorists that are trying to do everything they can to derail the transition to democracy, but they will be defeated. And that's why it's so important that we continue to train and equip the Iraqi security forces, so that our troops will be able to return home with honor once they are able to defend themselves.

But Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism. A free Iraq will be a powerful force for transforming the rest of the Middle East, and that's why it's so important that we succeed. And I think the American people recognize that it is important that we succeed in Iraq for our long-term security.

Anything else? Week ahead. The President on Monday will be meeting with the European Union leaders, part of United States-EU summit that will be going on. And then they'll participate in a press availability in the East Room. This will include Presidents Juncker and Barroso, as well as High Representative Solana.

Then on Tuesday, as we've already announced, the President will be meeting with the Prime Minister of Vietnam in the Oval Office. He'll also participate in the swearing-in ceremony for our Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, Ben Bernanke, who was just confirmed by the Senate the other day. Then he will make remarks, via satellite, to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.

And then on Wednesday, we will go to Lusby, Maryland, where the President will tour the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plants. Then he will make remarks and economic security and energy.

On Thursday, as I mentioned, he'll participate in a conversation on strengthening Social Security. And then on -

Q Where's that?

MR. McCLELLAN: In D.C. And then on Friday, the President will meet with the Prime Minister of Iraq, and then they will have a joint press availability in the East Room.

Thank you all.

Q Scott, can I ask you quickly - the EU-U.S. summit, is there a, sort of, couple points that are the highlight of the meetings?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is a way to continue talking about how we can work together on the common challenges that we're working to address. This will be an opportunity to talk about how we can move forward to spread freedom and democracy, strengthen security and extend prosperity throughout the world. I think that will be some of the focus of Monday. And I expect that they will talk about the Middle East and the progress being made there on the disengagement plan and the preparations for the disengagement plan. I expect they'll talk about Iraq. The United States and European Union are hosting a donor's conference, as you're aware, where at least some 80 countries that will be participating to support the Iraqi people in their efforts. I imagine they'll talk about Afghanistan and the broader Middle East initiative. I'm sure they'll talk about the broader war on terrorism and efforts to combat proliferation. I imagine they'll touch on economic -- talk about economic issues, as well, like trade and moving forward on the Doha negotiations. So that's kind of a general overview of it.


END 9:49 A.M. EDT