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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.


Michael Leavitt
Secretary of Health of Human Services

February 16, 2006

Michael Leavitt
Hello, I am Mike Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services. Our department is responsible for the nations health care. Medicare and Medicaid are the two payers of health care in America. HHS also has responsibility for medical disasters such as bio-terrorism events, pandemics or natural disasters.

In addition, well known names such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are all part of the HHS family. All of the human service programs such as aging, temporary assistance for needy families and child protection fall within our duties.

In recent days, I have met with the President, testified before Congress, talked to health care providers and traveled around the country talking about the President's health care agenda which he laid out in the State of the Union Address. Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you today. I look forward to your questions.

Duke, from Corvallis, Oregon writes:
I'm a senior in college and will finish up this summer with a degree from Oregon State University in healthcare administration. I'm also taking my first health policy course. In terms of health policy I have one direct question, Can you describe President Bush's ideology and how his ideological approach affects health policy formation in the U.S.?

Michael Leavitt
The President believes that we must foster self reliance but care for the truly needy. I see that reflected in his approach to health care. He has made it clear that he believes that every American should have access to basic health insurance. If a person is older, low income or disabled, he believes our nation has a responsibility and a duty to ensure that all of our citizens have access to health care and affordable coverage.

Cliff, from Brimfield, Ohio writes:
Secretary Leavitt:What is Transparency and Health IT? I have never heard these terms and have no idea as to what they mean. Thank You

Michael Leavitt
Transparency deals with information on how much health care costs. Few people know what their doctor or hospital charges before a visit. Transparency simply implies that information should be made readily available to consumers so we can all be aware of the costs up front.

Health IT means health information technology – using the power of technology to make health care more efficient. One simple example is that whenever we walk into a hospital or a clinic, the first thirty minutes are typically spent filling out forms on a clipboard. In the information age there is no reason that information needs be filled out over and over again. It could be contained in a system that we could identify, that would help eliminate medical mistakes. It would lower our costs, increase our quality and there would be less hassle.

Kim, from Kentucky writes:
Hi Secretary Leavitt, Health care is so expensive these days and it seems that even the simplist of procedures can cost hundreds of dollars. Would you say that this is due, in part, to the malpractice lawsuits that doctors must insure themselves against? What could be done to help reduce the costs of healthcare so that everyone would have a better opportunity to get the medical care that they required? Thank you

Michael Leavitt
There is no question that frivolous lawsuits contribute to the cost of health care, not simply the cost of attorney’s fees or the awards but the defensive medicine that is practiced where doctors are required to order far more tests than would ordinarily be necessary. People need the capacity to recover when an error has been made but the system needs reform and every American would benefit in the form of lower health care costs. The ultimate protection against lawsuits is high quality care and that must always be our goal.

Another way to decrease health care costs is through Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) which were created when the President signed the Medicare bill in December 2003. Just over 3 million Americans have enrolled in HSAs so far. As a result, health insurance is more affordable and workers and employers have greater flexibility in choosing how to best spend their health care dollars.

kristin, from grand rapids michgan writes:
is there a site on the web where u can understand medcare better

Michael Leavitt
Yes, in fact, you can visit, or call 1-800-MEDICARE to learn more about the Medicare, including the new prescription drug benefits available to seniors. In addition, more information may found on this web site in the Policy in focus page on Medicare located at

Ben, from Menomonee Falls, WI writes:
It is an honor to ask a question to one of the President's cabinet members. Will cutting the cost of health care help in any way? Are the programs that the President proposed going to help the retired citizens? Is the President working on ways to make health care more affordable. I know that's an obvious goal, but really I want to know how the President will do it?

Michael Leavitt

Ben, you ask a lot of good questions. Let me choose one of them. Cutting the cost of health care will help every American. Health care has begun to occupy more that 16% of our entire economy. Many other countries do it for significantly less, which leaves us at a competitive disadvantage in the world. So, health care costs being reduced will not only help each family, but it will help our economy.

As the President stated yesterday, he is committed to working with Congress to make sure that our health care system fosters strong relationships between doctors and patients, while ensuring that the benefits of private medicine are more affordable and accessible for all Americans.

You may want to read more about the President’s health care refrom proposals found in the booklet released yesterday entitled "Reforming Health Care for the 21st Century".

Myrna, from CEDAR CITY, UTAH writes:
Hi Governor LeavittIt is so good to talk with you from your home town of Cedar City.Just wondering how you like living in Washington DC and if you are enjoying your new job? What are you goals for this year and do you miss Utah at all?thanks Myrna ps- tell your wife hello for me and I hope she is enjoying her stay in our nations capital. I myself, would love to live there for a while.

Michael Leavitt
Myrna, thank you for the kind words. It’s always good to hear from home. I love my job, but I do miss Utah. If you drive my parents' house, give them a wave and I’ll be sure to tell Jackie you said hello.

David, from West Valley City, Utah writes:
If avian influenza becomes capable of human-to-human transmission, is it likely that will we be able to successfully contain an outbreak through rapid detection and quarantines before it becomes widespread? Since antivirals may not be effective and a vaccine may not be available, what is the best thing the public can do to protect themselves from this threat?

Michael Leavitt
David, a pandemic requires the same kind of personal preparation as any disaster. It’s a good idea to have a supply of food sufficient to last a few weeks if we are unable to go to the grocery store, a supply of water and extra medications if necessary.

If one owns a business, it’s important to be thinking about how the business could operate if many of the employees are unable to report to work for a period of six to eights weeks.

Preparation saves lives and it’s important that we all prepare, not just for a pandemic, but for any emergency -- natural or manmade.

Anthony, from Camp Lejuene writes:
Hello sir, glad to talk to you. My question is if it cost the pharmacuetical company say 65 cents to make a bottle of penacillin why are they charging my mother 65 dollars? I would also like to know how the Presidents plan will address this promblem since he won't let us by from Canada? Thankyou for your time sir.

Michael Leavitt
It's important to realize that many things factor into the costs of medications. For example, the development of a new drug takes more than six years and costs in excess of a billion dollars, and much of that is regulatory cost. One initiative that we have at the Department of Health and Human Services is to dramatically reduce that cost and shorten the time.

The reason that a bottle of medicine costs more to buy than it does to make is because they are trying to recapture the cost of developing it and obtaining the approval to manufacture and sell it.

We have an extraordinarily well protected system of food and drug safety. It’s a treasure in the United States and it needs to be continually protected and improved, however, it is necessary that we find ways to provide protections for our citizens at lower costs.

Kharis, from Boston, MA writes:
Hello Mr. Leavitt, When can we expect results from the Presidents health initiatives? Do you feel further political quibble will hinder the implementation and revision of proposed health bill? In addition, why has it taken so long to push revision of health care? Thank you for your time and I appreciate you effort. God Bless. Kharis

Michael Leavitt
We are already seeing the impact on prescription drugs. Millions have prescription drug coverage who didn’t before and the costs are coming down. A year ago, actuaries estimated that the average cost of the Part D would be $37, but because there are so many plans that are participating, the cost has come down to $25.

That’s what happens when there is competition in the market. Consumers benefit, and so do taxpayers. The policies are working.

Michael Leavitt
Thank you for all the great questions. I enjoyed spending time with you today and look forward to the next time.

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