For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 11, 2006
Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Columbia, Missouri
11:32 A.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: All right, good morning. Let me, first, run through the President's day, and then I've got our CMS Administrator here, and he'll talk to you a little bit about where we are in terms of the Medicare enrollment efforts and the new prescription drug benefit, and then he'll be glad to take whatever questions. And then after you're done with him, I'll be back for whatever other questions you have.
First of all, the President had his usual briefing before we departed. But when we arrive in Jefferson City, we'll be going to the Heisinger Bluffs -- be going to Heisinger Bluffs, which has nearly 200 residents, and it's the only continuing care retirement community. The staff has been involved in several of the informational sessions and seminars regarding the prescription drug benefit. And the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will be conducting a prescription drug plan enrollment session with 22 seniors at Heisinger Bluffs in the dining room there when we get there. And so there will be pool coverage of that when we get there. The President will be visiting with some of the seniors that are participating in this session.
Then following that, we'll be, I think, walking right across the way to the Performing Arts Center, where the President will participate in a conversation that will include our CMS Administrator, Dr. McClellan here, the Vice President of Operations for the Lutheran Senior Services for Missouri, and then a pharmacist and three retired seniors will be in that conversation, as well. The audience includes residents from Heisinger Bluffs, and guests are members of the Chamber of Commerce that distributed some tickets, as well.
And then we will go to Des Moines, Iowa, and there the President will visit with seniors at a Medicare drug benefit enrollment session, as well. He'll be going to Wesley Acres, which is a 350-resident retirement community. And Wesley Retirement Services has worked closely with the state health insurance program in Iowa to enroll residents in the new Medicare prescription drug benefit.
So that's just a little bit of background information. Then following that, the President will participate in a reception for Nussle for Governor, and then we'll head back to D.C. And I think that's all I've got to begin with. I'll turn it over to Mark, and he'll update you where we are in terms of Medicare enrollment.
DR. McCLELLAN: All right, thanks, Scott. The events that we're visiting today are events like those taking place all over the country right now, at a rate of more than a thousand a week, to help seniors get their questions answered about the new prescription drug coverage. We're seeing very strong enrollment continuing in the program. At this point, well over 29 million seniors are participating, and we're still five weeks ahead of the enrollment deadline of May 15th.
And what we want to make sure seniors know is that there are lots of places they can go for help, in addition to all the events taking place around the country now, where they can get questions answered by independent counselors, with help from members of Congress, with help from literally thousands of organizations collaborating with us. People can also call 1-800-Medicare anytime. We've added extra staff to help keep the waiting times low. And people can also get information at Medicare.gov. And we've taken a lot of steps to make sure the information there is as easy to use as possible.
Because of all this help that's available, seniors are signing up at a rate of close to 400,000 people a week. But we want to make sure that everyone can get their questions answered. For the seniors that haven't made a decision yet, many of them already have coverage from another source. Some of them don't have much in the way of prescription drug spending, so we want them to know about the kind of peace of mind that the Medicare drug coverage can provide, if they need more medicines in the future.
And the cost of this coverage is very low. It's much lower than expected. In Iowa, for example, you can get prescription drug coverage starting at less than $2 a month. And in every state there are plans available -- every state available except Alaska there are plans available for under $20 a month. So lower costs than expected, also better benefits than expected is driving a lot of the strong enrollment that we're seeing.
We're also taking some extra efforts now to help people with limited incomes find out about the extra assistance that's available to them. While everybody with Medicare can get help from the drug coverage, with an average of $1,100 worth of savings compared to not having coverage, there's extra help available for people with limited means. And we're collaborating with many organizations, church groups, advocacy groups like the NAACP, many organizations on aging, to specifically target people with limited incomes and do outreach to reach them where they live and work and play and pray. Those activities are ongoing, too, because the extra help available pays for over 95 percent of drug costs, on average. And that can make a real difference for people with limited means.
So we are engaged in a full-scale efforts for the next five weeks. In addition to our events around the country this week, many other administration officials are participating in these events around the country as well, as part of this effort to make sure that seniors know that they can get help in making a decision and that there is a lot of financial assistance available, averaging $1,100 for a typical senior, averaging over $3,700 for a low-income senior.
Q What is the total enrollment right now?
DR. McCLELLAN: Enrollment is around 29.5 million seniors, and that's been increasing at a rate of close to 400,000 people per week. We're seeing more people get interested in making a decision as we're getting closer to the enrollment deadline. And we want to let people know that if they go to one of the events now, if they call us at 1-800-Medicare, they can get their questions answered, and they can avoid that last-minute rush, which might lead to some more delays if they wait to sign up until mid May.
Q So is that enrollment -- are you on track to meet the goal that you'd set?
DR. McCLELLAN: Our expectations were 28 million to 30 million for the year, and we're about there right now.
Q What's the holdup with the Trustees report?
DR. McCLELLAN: I think you have to talk to the Department of Treasury about that. I think there are some issues related to the public trustees. But we are still proceeding -- our actuaries are still proceeding to have all that information available as soon as possible.
Q What percent of the 29 million were automatically enrolled?
DR. McCLELLAN: About 6 million people have Medicare and Medicaid, so they got coverage automatically, 6 million. In addition, about 11 million people are getting coverage from their former employer. And a lot of people were worried that employers would drop their coverage when the drug benefit began. We really haven't seen that happen. Employers are taking a new subsidy from Medicare, so people with their coverage can keep it. We've really made a difference in the downward trend in the availability of retiree health insurance.
Then there are about 4 million people, over 4 million people who had coverage before, through a Medicare Advantage plan -- that's an HMO or PPO plan in Medicare. They are getting extra, more generous coverage than they had, coverage that's more valuable than before. And in addition to those individuals we've had, at this point, over 9 million people sign up for coverage on their own.
Q What purpose does it serve to have the President involved with this? Why him, as opposed to the other -- you know, you've got a thousand of these seminars going on around the country. Isn't that a more utilitarian way of getting information out?
DR. McCLELLAN: The seminars and events are really focused on answering people's questions. There's a lot of people have -- you know, this is a very important new program. This is the most important new benefit in Medicare in 40 years. So it's understandable that a lot of people have a lot of questions.
What we've found is that the best way to help people make a confident decision about the coverage is to get past the general things that they may hear about in the paper or on the news, and let them find out about exactly what the program means for them. So the events that are taking place around the country let people provide just a little bit of information, like the drugs they're taking now, the pharmacies they like to use, and they can find out about how much they're going to save.
Having the President here, who has helped lead this effort, including from the start, of getting prescription drug coverage into Medicare after more than a decade of inaction on this issue, is a great way to help seniors find out about the assistance that's available, so that they can make a confident decision about the coverage. Many other administration officials are participating in these efforts this week. Many private organizations, groups like the Medicare Rx Education Network, and Medicare Today are participating. Many seniors groups, like AARP, faith-based groups, community organizations, they're all part of this major grass-roots effort.
And I would add to this that this is really a new way for the Medicare program to work. We're no longer a program that's just sitting back in Baltimore and Washington and paying the bills; we're actually reaching out around the country to connect directly with our beneficiaries, by working with all these partner organizations to help people get the coverage that they want. And it's paying off in lower costs and better benefits than people had expected with the Medicare drug coverage.
Q Do you feel that people wouldn't pay attention to it if the President wasn't talking about it?
DR. McCLELLAN: Lots of people are already paying attention to it. But I think the more efforts that we can make together to let seniors know about the importance of making a decision about the most important new benefit in Medicare in 40 years before May 15th can really help.
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, thanks. All right, anything else?
Q Yes. What do you think of Iran's statements today that they're enriching uranium from 164 centrifuges?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it only further underscores why the international community has serious concerns about the regime's nuclear ambitions. This is a regime that needs to be building confidence with the international community. Instead, they're moving in the wrong direction. This is a regime that has a long history of hiding its nuclear activities from the international community, and refusing to comply with its international obligations. Defiant statements and actions only further isolate the regime from the rest of the world, and further isolate the Iranian people.
The international community has clearly expressed their concerns and called on the regime to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities and comply with its obligations. That's what was passed by the Security Council in a presidential statement -- or that's what was expressed in a presidential statement by the Security Council just recently. Such steps only further isolate the regime from the rest of the world.
Q Do you see this as a type of further escalation, and is the United States going to take any additional action?
MR. McCLELLAN: This isn't about -- this is about the regime's behavior and the concerns that it had -- the international community has with its nuclear program. The reason the international community is concerned about their nuclear program is because of their history of hiding its activities. The international community is concerned about the regime developing nuclear weapons or a nuclear weapons capability under the cover of a civilian program. And that's why the international has joined together and called on the regime to take specific steps to build confidence that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.
Q Yesterday the President used the term "doctrine of prevention" rather than "doctrine of preemption." Should we take any significance from that, or was that a slip of the tongue?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what you're referring to, specifically.
Q Well, in the -- you just cited the "doctrine of preemption" was the term used, and at the Washington --
MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't make anything of that. The President was making an important point that we should exhaust all diplomatic means before going to -- before using force. He was responding to a student's question. I wouldn't make anything more of it than what he said. And the international community is determined to prevent the regime from obtaining a nuclear weapons capability.
And that's why one of the most important steps that the international community has called on the regime to take is to fully suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities. That is in order for the regime to start building confidence again with the international community. It's the regime's own behavior and actions that have put it in this position, and only isolated itself from the rest of the world.
And -- go ahead.
Q Sorry. Does today's announcement tell you anything about their progress that you didn't already know? Didn't you already have this information recently?
MR. McCLELLAN: I can't make it -- I just saw the reports, like you did. And it was a comment from former President Rafsanjani, I guess. I don't know any more about what it means than what I just saw at this point.
Q Do you think this will help you in trying to convince some of the members of the Security Council to go for sanctions against Iran?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the presidential statement gave the regime 30 days to come clean and make a commitment to comply with its obligations. And if the regime continues to move in the direction it is currently, then we will be talking about the way forward with the other members of the Security Council and Germany about how to address this going forward. I think I've said before and we've said before that we'll continue to talk with members of the Security Council and Germany about next steps if the regime refuses to change its behavior.
Q Next steps include sanctions, correct?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we'll talk with the rest of the Security Council members and others about the next steps. Right now the regime has been given an opportunity to commit to complying with its obligations. And the most recent statements from the regime only further isolate itself and continue to show that it is moving in the wrong direction.
Q Will the President make any comment on this today in any fashion, any format?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know if anything is planned at this point. I never rule things out, but I don't know that anything is planned. I think that there were reports that something like this was going to be made by the regime previously, earlier this week.
Q What do you think of Prodi winning the Italian election? And are you going to be able to work with his government the way you guys worked with Berlusconi?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, Italy has been a good partner and ally. But secondly, the results are still being finalized. We are watching those results closely, and watching developments closely. But Italy has been a good partner and strong ally, and I wouldn't expect anything to change, regardless of the outcome of the election.
Q Can I ask you about -- the President gave his speech yesterday about the war on terror and Iraq. I wonder -- I know the President doesn't look at polls, but is the President concerned that his leadership in this area, that people aren't -- that with his popularity as low as Richard Nixon's, or close to Richard Nixon's now, that people aren't following his leadership, and that part of being a leader in the war on terrorism and Iraq is having people agree with you and follow you, but public opinion seems to be going the opposite direction, despite all of this effort he's putting in this area?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the American people recognize that the President is a strong leader who is committed to doing everything in his power to protect them. His number one priority is the safety and security of the American people. And that's why we are waging a comprehensive war on terrorism. That's why we are staying on the offensive and taking the fight to the enemy. The President recognizes that this is a long-term ideological struggle that we're engaged in, and he's going to continue leading to make America safer.
Q -- trip today, any members?
MR. McCLELLAN: There will be some members there with him. I can get you -- I can get you --
Q What about traveling with him?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't think they're -- because they're on recess right now, so they'll be at the events. In fact, one of the events is for a member.
Q Ambassador Wilson on Sunday called for the White House to release transcripts of the conversations the President and Vice President had with Fitzgerald. Without commenting on the ongoing investigation, can you say whether the President --
MR. McCLELLAN: Nothing has changed from my response from yesterday when that question came up, and I answered it in the briefing, expressed our views.
All right, thanks.
END 11:51 A.M. EDT