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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 14, 2006

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan and Dr. Mark McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Rochester, New York

10:25 A.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, it's another one of those McClellan brother briefings. First, let me go through the President's day. The President had his usual briefing this morning, before we departed.

When we land, because of the weather, we're not going to be choppering, we're going to be motorcading. And so the first event we're going to do is go to the school. And the President will participate in the conversation there. And I'm going to let Mark talk more about that in a minute. And then following that, we will go to the senior center, where the President will visit an education and enrollment program that is going on for -- I think about a dozen seniors will be there.

And then following that, the President is also scheduled to meet, when we get back to the airport, with some families of fallen soldiers. I think he's meeting with five families of fallen soldiers. Three of those made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq.

And then when we get back to the White House this evening, at approximately 5:50 p.m., the President has got a meeting in the Roosevelt Room with a broad range of groups that have been helping with the education and enrollment efforts for seniors. And we can get you more information on that later.

Q Coverage on that?

MR. McCLELLAN: There's no coverage on that. It's just a --

Q Sorry, the meeting is at 5:50 p.m., or we're back at 5:50 p.m.?

MR. McCLELLAN: We get back at about 5:30 p.m., I think, is when we get back to the White House.

A couple of things I want to mention before I turn it over to Mark. First of all, when we arrive at the airport, one of the greeters that the President is going to meet is Jason, who friends call him J-Mac, McElwain, and his parents, and the coach of his high school basketball team, Greece-Athena High School.

This is really an uplifting and inspirational personal story. I don't know if you all are familiar with it. This is a senior at the high school, who is autistic. And he had been a coach's assistant at the high school for several years, and kind of the spirit leader for the team. And in the final game, the coach had him suit up with the rest of the team. And toward the end of the game the coach put him in the game. And in just over three minutes, I think three minutes and 11 seconds time, he scored 20 points, including six three pointers. And it's really drawn a lot of interest, both in the community and nationally. But it's a story that's brought a lot of pride and joy to the school and the students, and to the community, as well. So I just wanted to point that out to you.

Q How many points did he score?

MR. McCLELLAN: Twenty points, six three-pointers.

Then a couple of items I want to bring to your attention, too. Secretary Snow is giving a speech right now, I think it's the Community Bankers Association. And in that speech he's going to be talking about CFIUS reform. As you've heard me say, we support improvements and reform of the CFIUS process. And today the Secretary is going to lay out some of the key principles that we believe ought to guide reform. Secretary Snow is also engaged in ongoing discussions with congressional leaders about how we can move forward to reform the CFIUS process. We're looking at both administrative and legislative improvements to the CFIUS process. So you all will probably be seeing more on that soon.

And then one other item. In the Intelligence Reform Act that was passed and the President signed into law, it included the creation of the Presidential Privacy and Civil Liberties Board. This is a board that was set up to advise the President to make sure the privacy and civil liberties issues are addressed as we develop counterterrorism policies. And the Senate recently confirmed the chair and the vice-chair of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board. They are holding their first meeting today, and the President looks forward to working with the board as we move forward, to protect the American people and safeguard our civil liberties. So I just wanted to bring that item to your attention.

I think that's all I've got to begin with. Now I want the turn it over to Mark, and then we'll be here for any questions.

DR. McCLELLAN: The event that the President is participating in today and the event at the senior center are like thousands of events taking place all over the country right now, to help seniors find out about and take advantage of the most important new benefit in Medicare's 40-year history.

The new drug coverage is working now for millions of people of seniors and people with a disability. More than 26 million people have coverage, more than a million prescriptions a day are being filled, and every week hundreds of thousands more people are enrolling in the program.

As with any program and new benefit this big, there are going to be some transition issues. Back in January, when the program first started up, we spent a lot of time going around the country, hearing from pharmacists and seniors and health plans about what was working and what needed to be improved. We found problems and fixed them, and at this point, we're seeing much lower wait times for people who call in with questions about their coverage; we're seeing much more complete information in the pharmacy billing systems, and as a result, many, many more people are using their coverage effectively.

There was a new survey released yesterday that showed seniors overwhelmingly are having no or little difficulty using their new coverage for the first time. Once they've used the coverage, or connected with their drug plan, they're saving typically 50 percent or much more. Other recent studies have shown that seniors can save even more by switching to lower-cost generic drugs and other drugs that work in similar ways. So the savings can be 70 percent or 80 percent or more.

The reason for the savings is that the drug plans are competing strongly to attract beneficiaries into their programs. They're doing that by offering large discounts on a broad range of brand name and generic drugs. They've negotiated low prices. They're taking steps to keep costs down, and that's why the cost of this coverage is turning out to be about 25 percent lower than expected for taxpayers this year, and more than a third lower for seniors. Average premiums are coming in around $25 a month, and in New York there are plans available that cost much less than that.

The Medicare program is also bringing additional health plan options to seniors. And one of the couples that the President is going to talk with today are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage health plan. That's a health plan in Medicare that offers a comprehensive set of benefits for not just drugs, but all types of medical services. These Medicare Advantage plans save beneficiaries typically $100 a month. And so these beneficiaries are paying less in premiums now for coverage that is comprehensive and includes drugs than they were paying last year for supplemental coverage without drugs. So it's another example of how the program is saving people money.

Q How much of the President getting out there, both today, and then again tomorrow -- he's got another Medicare event, right -- how much of that is to counter some of the talk from other groups trying to kind of criticize the program, maybe even suppress support for it? Why is it necessary to get the President out there right now?

MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, this is a very important program for our nation's seniors. And we've worked with Congress in a bipartisan way to modernize Medicare, to make sure that seniors had up to date benefits, and that they had more choices from which to choose, so that they could get the health care that best fit their individual needs. And seniors right now are realizing substantial savings on their prescription drugs. And so the President is going to continue to highlight this important program, and talk about the benefits that are available for seniors to enjoy that haven't yet signed up for the program.

As Mark talked about, for the vast majority of seniors, this program is working very well. But you can expect the President will continue to talk about these important new benefits that seniors now have, and the significant savings that they're realizing under this program.

Q But he hasn't had an event or a trip dedicated to Medicare in quite some time. So why is he doing --

MR. McCLELLAN: We've done a number of events. And as I've said, the President is going to continue -- this is one of the top priorities for the President, making sure that Americans have access -- have access to affordable health care is a top priority. This was one of the most dramatic improvements we've made in health care in a number of years by working with Congress. And so the President is going to continue to highlight it.

DR. McCLELLAN: With any program as large and important as Medicare, there are going to be politics around it. People have strong views, and that's okay. What we're focused on is making sure that each senior can find out what the program means for them. It's not about the rhetoric, but about the savings and the security that they can personally get by making a decision about the Medicare drug coverage. They can do that by calling 1-800-MEDICARE any time with virtually no waiting, they can do that by going to events like the one that the President will visit that are happening all over the country, they can do it by going online to, or getting help from a family member. And hundreds of thousands of seniors are doing that every week, and they're getting larger savings than expected, and the coverage is working smoothly for the vast majority of them.

Q What are the big trouble spots you see? Is there any group of seniors who you're having a harder time getting the message through to?

DR. McCLELLAN: Well, we are particularly concerned about low-income beneficiaries finding out about the extra help that they can get. The Medicare drug coverage has no premium and will pay typically 95 percent of their drug cost.

Historically, this has been a very challenging population to reach. For example, the Medicaid program for seniors only has about 60 percent of eligible people enrolled 40 years after it began. So we're very pleased that there already are more than a-million-and-a-half low-income seniors who have signed up for coverage, and a lot of the effort that we are spending over the coming weeks is devoted to extra direct attempts to reach them.

Among the people that the President will meet with later this afternoon, are representatives, leaders from a broad range of advocacy groups that often have very different political views, but that all have come together because they know that this is the most important benefit for low-income seniors in 40 years, and they're helping us get even more people enrolled.


Q What is the strategy for you guys to get a strong presidential statement out of the Security Council, especially given Russia and China's problems with that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the discussions are ongoing. There are active discussions that continue in New York with diplomats representing countries on the Security Council. So we need to let those discussions continue. But I think all nations understand the importance of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. And all nations want to see the regime in Iran return to a suspension of its enrichment and reprocessing activities, and see the regime cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

So we're working together. I saw comments by Russia expressing concern about the behavior of the regime in the discussions with Russia. But we're all working together to make sure that the regime does not develop nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian program.

And this is about the regime's behavior, and all of us recognize that their behavior is moving in the wrong direction. We want to see that behavior changed. The regime still has an opportunity to change course and come into compliance and return to a suspension of their enrichment-related activities and adhere to the Paris Agreement. But we still remain skeptical, given their history, that they will.

Q But will you -- aren't you a little concerned about if there is a divided Security Council on this, that it will weaken your hand?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that's premature to get into that kind of discussion. The discussions right now are underway in New York. They just recently have gotten underway over the last few days. Those discussions are continuing about how we can move forward to address the matter.

It was reported by an overwhelming majority of the International Atomic Energy Agency board to the Security Council because Iran has failed to comply with their safeguard obligations and has continued to thumb their nose at the international community and its demands.

Q If you can't even get a statement out of the Security Council on Iran, I mean, essentially you'll have no leverage left with them.

MR. McCLELLAN: The discussions are ongoing. This matter is before the Security Council now, and those discussions are in the early stages right now, so I'm not going to try to speculate at this point beyond that.

And I -- one final thing, we want to wish happy birthday to Greg North -- (applause) -- and Chris Edwards.

Q Really?


Q How old are they?

MR. McCLELLAN: How old are you?

Q For the record.

Q Old enough to know better.

Q You don't have to answer that.

MR. NORTH: Twenty-nine.

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me finish on Iran now that we've landed. I think that the international community is united in its objective of preventing the regime from developing a nuclear weapon. All of us want to see the regime come into compliance with its safeguard obligations and return to a suspension of its enrichment-related activities.

You know, again, I know that the regime would like to try to shift the focus away from their behavior and on to other things, but all of us are keeping the focus where it belongs, and that's on the behavior of the regime.

Q Have you gotten any assurances from Russia and China with respect to supporting the United States?

MR. McCLELLAN: The discussions are ongoing with diplomats that are part of the Security Council process.

Okay? Thank you.

END 10:40 A.M. EST