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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.


Dr. Mark McClellan
Dr. Mark McClellan
Administrator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
Scott McClellan
Scott McClellan
White House Press Secretary

May 10, 2006

Dr. Mark McClellan
Outgoing White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan and his brother Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Mark McClellan answer questions on Ask The White House, Wednesday, May 10, 2006. White House photo by Eric DraperWe're pleased to be with you all this afternoon. One of the special privileges of this job, and there are many, has been working with my brother Scott. I'm going to miss that, but it's nice that one of our last joint activities is doing something that Scott does a lot and I enjoy doing too - that's answering questions from the public.

Scott McClellan
It has been an extraordinary honor and privilege to serve the American people as White House Press Secretary for nearly three years now. Mark is right, it is a special privilege to have shared this experience with my brother. The job is demanding, but it is also very rewarding. One of the best parts of the job is getting to travel with the President. Thank you to all those who have offered their prayers and support to the President and White House staff. We are all greatly appreciative. Mark and I are glad to answer your questions.

Kellen, from Arlington writes:
Is the President concerned with the additional costs of the Medicare Part D drug benefit? How does he suggest that the government fund it on top of the already increasing Medicare costs? Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.

Dr. Mark McClellan
Good question - Medicare's financial outlook is not good, with rising health care costs and more and more people coming into the program. That's why the President believes we need to take steps now to make it more sustainable. The new drug coverage is part of this effort. Up til now, almost all of the $300+ billion that Medicare spends each year has gone to paying for the complications of health problems after they happen. But today, modern medicine can do a tremendous amount to prevent those complications - and that means lower costs and longer and better lives. I'm an internal medicine doctor, and I've treated a lot of patients who experienced complications like needing dialysis for diabetes or hip replacements for thin bones - costly complications that can be prevented with early diagnosis and drug treatment that costs much less. So that's what is changing in Medicare now. Prevention-oriented, high quality health care is the only kind we can afford. In addition, we have proposed some incremental reforms that slow down the rate of Medicare spending growth. If we take these steps now, we can head off the need for more drastic action later.

Lynn, from California writes:
Dear Scott: I think you served the President well and i am saddened at your departure. What was the highlight of your career working for the President?. And what was you low point?

Scott McClellan
Thank you, Lynn. I think the highlight has been when I was with the President and he was visiting our troops and their families. We have been to bases across the country and around the world -- Camp Pendleton in your state, Fort Campbell in Kentucky, Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. They make us all proud, and are serving and sacrificing at a particularly challenging period in our Nation's history.

I think the low point had to have been September 11th. At the same time, we saw the best of America in the aftermath. American came together and rose to the challenge -- neighbor helping neighbor. We will always remember the heroic efforts of the rescue teams.

Bruce, from Franklin Hills, CA writes:
Mark, was Scott good at talking himself out of trouble as a child?

Photo taken March 14, 2006, at the West Lake Senior Center. White House photo by Kimberlee HewittDr. Mark McClellan
Almost as good as he is now. Seriously, though, we grew up in a family with a lot of emphasis on public service and public speaking. Our grandfather always said, "It's not the dollars you make, it's the difference you make."

Scott has long been involved in public service, dating back to campaigns and student government. And I'm sure he'll continue to make a difference in his next endeavors - including in helping me get points across clearly!

Mary, from Alpine, UT writes:
I enjoy watching the Press Secretary on TV taking questions from the news media but I'm never sure as to when the news conference is scheduled. Do you have a scedualed time for your news conferences?

Scott McClellan
It varies depending upon the President's schedule for the day. Typically, the briefing begins somewhere around 12:30 to 1pm. It's important for the press secretary to participate in meetings with the President, including policy briefings and world leader meetings. The briefing schedule has to be arranged around the President's daily schedule -- both public and private. We put out the public schedule, which includes the briefing times, each evening after the President's daily schedule is finalized.

Jeff, from Ely, Nevada writes:
Dr. Mclellan,Is every senior citizen eligible for the new Medicare prescription drug coverage?

Dr. Mark McClellan
Everyone with Medicare is eligible, no matter their income or how they pay for their drugs now. On average, the drug benefit provides over $1100 worth of help - that's more than 50% of drug costs for a typical senior. There is extra help available for people with limited means, which amounts to 95% or more of drug costs in most cases. And you can get help in lots of ways. For people who already have good drug coverage through a former employer, Medicare is now providing subsidies to help keep it secure. And if you like to get your Medicare coverage through a Medicare Advantage health plan, one of the HMO or PPO plans in Medicare, you can do that. Or you can just add drug coverage to your current benefits.

Over 37 million people with Medicare now have drug coverage. It's important to look into the coverage before May 15, the enrollment deadline, if you haven't done so already. I'd recommend 1/2/3: 1- Make a list of your drugs, or just get your pill bottles in front of you 2- Make sure you have your Medicare card handy, because we can give you personalized help if you have your Medicare number 3- Call us at 1-800-MEDICARE anytime, go to on the web, or go to one of the more than 1000 enrollment events taking place around the country between now and Monday night.

Courtney, from Memphis, TN writes:
Mr. Scott McClellan, I would like to take this time to ask you how you, as White House Press Secretary for three years, prepared for your daily press briefings?

Scott McClellan
In my role as press secretary, I rely on the support and help of many people within the White House and throughout the Administration. I try to anticipate what issues and questions may be on the press corps mind. Obviously, there are certain issues we want to focus on each day as well. I often will check stick my head into the oval office and check with the President to see how he might want to respond to a particular question. I have had direct access to him anytime I have needed to see him. Any given day, there tend to be in the range of ten different issues that might be covered at the briefing. I tend to focus most of my time gathering information and facts on the two or three big issues of the day, and my deputies help gather information on the other issues.

I have also worked for the President for more than seven years now, and knew him even before I went to work for him. One of my strengths has been that I have a good sense of his thinking and how he might respond to a particular question. He is someone who governs from a core set of principles and has a clear philosophy, and knows where he wants to lead the country. That makes it easier to serve as his spokesman.

Kim, from Kentucky writes:
Hi Mark, With the new prescription drug plan, it sounds like Medicare is focusing a lot more on preventative care than in years past. Is this a shift in emphasis and how can healthy lifestlyle choices help in healthcare costs down the road?

Dr. Mark McClellan
Kim, that's absolutely the case. For 40 years, people with Medicare have known we would be there to help them pay the bills when they get sick. But health and health care today are increasingly about taking steps to stay well, and detect diseases and treat them early before they progress. Now, Medicare is going to put just as much emphasis on working with our beneficiaries to help them stay well and prevent disease complications. The drug coverage is a core part of this big change in the program. It makes a lot more sense to pay a few hundred dollars for the drugs that can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and prevent a $100,000 debilitating stroke, than just to pay for the stroke care.

To make this change, we need to work with our beneficiaries. People with Medicare can choose the drug coverage they want, and we are partnering with thousands of organizations and advocacy groups and health professionals around the country to reach our beneficiaries where they live and work and play and pray. Now that the vast majority of Medicare beneficiaries have drug coverage, we'll be using this same approach to help people find out about and take advantage of all of our new preventive benefits - including free screening for heart disease and diabetes, and new programs to help people with chronic diseases use medicines and lifestyle steps to prevent complications.

Joel, from Superior, WI writes:
Mr. Scott McClellan, What kind of hours did you work as White House Press Secretary?

Scott McClellan
I start my day at 5am when I wake up and start going through the national papers at home. I usually get in around 6:30 to 7am. When we are not traveling, I always try to leave the office no later than 8pm. That does not always work.

Starting tomorrow, I think I will sleep in a little later and look at the sports section of the paper first.

Abbie, from Florida writes:
We have group coverage that is now our secondary, because husband retired. Wife is primary with medicare disability and group coverage is secondary since husband retired. Group coverage says that since they have prescription drug plan in affect that is all we will need Should we consider signing up anyway? Our income is $36,000 total for both of us. Half of that is non taxed because it is disability income. And we do have $100,000 in investments which produce a bit of income four times a year. What can you advise us?

Dr. Mark McClellan
Lots of people with Medicare already have drug coverage that is working for them. It sounds like you all are in this situation, with at least part of your coverage from a former employer. So long as that coverage is as good as or better than the basic Medicare benefit - what's called "creditable" coverage - your former employer can get a subsidy from Medicare to keep your coverage in place. Altogether, about 11 million Medicare beneficiaries are getting coverage this way. It saves money for the Federal government compared to just having a one-size-fits-all plan for everyone, because your former employer continues to pay for much of the cost.

Joanna, from Michigan writes:
Hello, Scott. Our family really enjoyed watching you at the press briefings over the years. We know it was not an easy job at all We would wonder how you did it so graciously, yet speak the mind of the President so accurately. Now that you will be heading back to Texas (is that correct?) what will you and your wife be doing? (I think I heard that you will be making speeches around the country, but I'm not sure.) Thank you for all that you did for our great Nation while you worked in the White House, Scott. May God continue to bless you and your wife.

Scott McClellan
Thanks, Joanna. Jill and I are going to spend more time together and enjoy the next chapter in our life together. We have only been married two and a half years. She has known nothing but this in our time together. I thank Jill for the great sacrifices she has made during that time so that I could serve in this position.

There have been a lot of interesting opportunities coming but I am going to take my time thinking about it. One thing you cannot do in this job is think about what's next.

I was born and raised in Austin, Texas. It is a fantastic city. I eventually would like to get back to my home state of Texas, but my wife and I are not rushing off.

Bev, from Seattle, WA writes:
I want to know why it will cost me more to belong to a program and pay for my meds then it will to pay for my meds outright--I have certain meds I want the brand name. I think that it should be an option to sign up without a penalty for waiting.

Dr. Mark McClellan
Millions of people are saving on the cost of their drugs by enrolling in a prescription drug plan. And one of the real benefits of the new coverage is that you can choose a plan that will cover your brand name drugs. Every prescription drug plan has to cover at least two drugs that will treat the most common conditions that seniors and people with a disability may have. Where generic drugs that treat these same conditions are available, the plan will most likely cover that generic, which is identical to the brand name drugs, but a whole lot less expensive. So you will be able to get the drug you need to treat your conditions, and see significant savings on the cost of that coverage. If you and your doctor agree that you should remain on the brand name drug, your doctor can file an exception with your plan.

Michael, from South Boston, Massachusetts writes:
Hello Scott, the official title of your position is Press Secretary. However, I am curious, other cabinet members are referred to as Mr. Secretary or Madame Secretary, why is the person in your position not given this same title? Why aren't you referred to as the "Secretary of the Press?" Thanks and best wishes in the next steps of your career path.

Scott McClellan
There have been times when people refer to me as Mr. Secretary. However, as press secretary, I am a member of the President's senior staff not his cabinet. That's the short answer.

Garfield, from Brentwood, CA writes:
What do you think Medicare will look like in the future, considering it's current economic state?

Dr. Mark McClellan
I see a future program in which beneficiaries get better health care at an affordable price.

The main reason for today’s bleak financial outlook is that health care costs too much and does too little. We pay for many valuable treatments, but we also pay for care that is not state of the art—and often we pay more, in fact, for care that is out-of-date, and drives up complications and unnecessary costs.

But we are already making major changes in how we pay, because high-quality care is the only kind of care we can afford. We’ve already made major progress—through improving quality, transparency, and better benefits like prevention and prescription drugs. We’re paying for better value and greater efficiency rather than simply more services, and we’re enabling beneficiaries to choose the coverage they want at the lowest cost. We’re already seeing the results of this in better, more affordable care in hospitals and doctors’ offices, and soon we’ll see it in nursing homes and throughout the health care system.

Harold, from Houston writes:
Scott, Is there hope for the Longhorns now that Vince Young has become a first round NFL draft pick?

Scott McClellan
President George W. Bush holds up a University of Texas Longhorns jersey with head football coach Mack Brown, as they give the 'Hook Em Horns' sign, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2006 on the South Lawn of the White House, during ceremonies to honor the 2005 NCAA Football Champions. White House photo by Paul Morse Now, we're talking. Hook 'em! One of my favorite moments here at the White House was when the national champion Horns came to visit -- on my birthday.

The Longhorns have a lot of talent coming back. Jamaal Charles and Ramonce Taylor are explosive players that can breakaway at any moment. The receivers bring solid experience to the offense. We have two young quarterbacks in Colt McCoy and Jevan Snead competing for the starting job, and both look really good. The defense returns much talent too. I look forward to having the opportunity to attend many games next Fall.

Alvin, from Troy, MI writes:
Dr. McClellan, my father and mother are 54 years old. Would they qualify for this prescription drug benefit that you are touting? I know that it is a matter of concern for my parents.

Dr. Mark McClellan
To receive Medicare, your mother needs to be in a group that's eligible, that is, 65+ years old or under 65 with a long-term disability. If she is not disabled, then they still have 11 years to go. By that time, I'd hope and expect that they will experience a program that is using drug coverage and other preventive benefits to help them stay well and keep their health care costs down for many more years.

Christin, from Warner Robins, GA writes:
Are you pleased with the President's choice for you successor?

Scott McClellan
Very much so. Tony Snow is a bright, capable and straight-forward person. He will do a great job, and I wish him all the best.

Scott McClellan
Thanks everyone for your questions, well wishes and prayers. I will reflect back fondly on my time as press secretary. Being in the center of history and traveling the country and world with the President has been the experience of a lifetime. There are lots of ways to make a positive difference -- whether it is volunteering to help others in need, serving in the military, or pursuing a career in public service.

Dr. Mark McClellan
I just want to remind everyone about the upcoming May 15th deadline to enroll in the Medicare prescription drug benefit. If you need assistance, please call 1-800-MEDICARE or go to

It has been a lot of fun answering your questions and being with my brother today.