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For Immediate Release
January 24, 2004

The President's Address to the Nation

Good Morning. In my State of the Union address, I spoke of a great priority for our nation, to confront the rising cost of health care, and make sure that more of our citizens can afford the health care they need. Health care costs are rising too fast for many families and businesses. It is time to address this problem directly, with five clear steps that Congress can take this year.

First, we can help control rising health care costs by cutting down on frivolous lawsuits against doctors and hospitals. When health care providers are responsible for injuries, they should be accountable. Yet no one was ever healed by a junk or frivolous lawsuit.

This week, I will travel to Little Rock, Arkansas, to visit Baptist Health Medical Center. For Baptist and other hospitals across the nation, frivolous lawsuits have dramatically increased the cost of medical liability premiums. These costs are passed on to patients in higher bills. These costs are driving doctors from important work, such as delivering babies. And these costs are driving some doctors out of medicine entirely.

In order to protect the doctor-patient relationship, Congress should pass medical liability reform that removes the threat of frivolous lawsuits and the needless costs they impose on our health care system.

Second, we should help more small businesses afford health insurance for their workers by allowing these firms to band together and negotiate for lower insurance rates. These Association Health Plans give small employers the same bargaining power as big companies, making it easier for them to provide employee health coverage. The House has passed a bill supporting these health plans, and the Senate needs to act.

Third, Congress should give lower-income Americans refundable tax credits to help them purchase health insurance. These tax credits would total up to $1,000 for individuals and $3,000 for families. For many Americans lacking health insurance, these credits would make the difference between affording insurance, and going without.

Fourth, we should help Americans with their health care costs by encouraging the use of health savings accounts. Congress passed these accounts last year in the Medicare bill, allowing people to save money for future medical expenses tax-free. People who make use of health savings accounts also will buy high-deductible insurance policies to protect them against catastrophic medical costs like hospitalization or major surgery. This year, I am urging Congress to make those premiums 100 percent tax deductible. This new deduction would strengthen health savings accounts, and make health insurance more affordable for millions of Americans not covered through their workplace.

And fifth, we can control health care costs and improve care by moving American medicine into the information age. My budget for the coming year proposes doubling to $100 million the money we spend on projects that use promising health information technology. This would encourage the replacement of handwritten charts and scattered medical files with a unified system of computerized records. By taking this action, we would improve care, and help prevent dangerous medical errors, saving both lives and money.

In all these measures, we are upholding the basic principle that private health care and the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship make America's health care the best in the world. And with the help of Congress, this year we will strengthen our private system of care by addressing the rising cost of health care, and helping more Americans afford health coverage.

Thank you for listening.