Presidential Radio Address - 18 May 2002
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Medicare is one of the most important and compassionate programs in American history. It provides medical care to the elderly and people with disabilities. It is a source of security and dignity for tens of millions of Americans. The health of America's senior citizens is one of America's most sacred obligations, and it is a commitment my administration will fully honor.
Yet we need to do more to fulfill Medicare's promise. Seniors should have affordable coverage choices that meet their needs. But Medicare does not do that. Many seniors need prescription drug coverage. Medicare does not provide it. And because Medicare does not cover prescription drugs, seniors often pay the highest prices for drugs out of their own pockets, forcing too many of our seniors to chose between paying for pills or paying their bills.
Medicare is an essential program, but it has not kept pace with the advances in medicine. The Medicare program is costly for seniors and too often does not provide the choices that our seniors need, and our seniors want. So Medicare must be strengthened, and it must be improved.
Congress is working hard to pass legislation that will help many seniors with their drug costs, and guarantee all senior citizens prescription drug coverage. I strongly support these efforts.
At the same time, I am working for a Medicare endorsed drug card, that will allow seniors to get lower prices from drug manufactures right away. And I'm working for temporary assistance with drug costs for seniors with limited incomes, even before the full prescription drug benefit becomes available a few years from now.
Medicare also needs to give every senior affordable, up-to- date health insurance options. Right now, more than 5 million Medicare members have access to valuable, modern health insurance benefits and prescription drug coverage in Medicare plus Choice plans.
These improved benefits, along with innovative treatments, probably saved Joe Hotin's life. Mr. Hotin served in the Navy in World War II. He joined his Medicare plus Choice in 1995. Because his health plan covers annual checkups, Joe's doctor caught a spot and got it treated before it turned into life threatening cancer.
Many of these treatments and programs that can save and improve lives, and reduce health care costs, are only available through Medicare's private plans. Unfortunately, millions of Medicare members do not have the option to choose these benefits. The federal government has long provided reliable coverage choices to all its employees. But current law prevents private health plans from giving Medicare enrollees the same choices. As a result, over 100 private plans have left Medicare, and millions of seniors have lost the valuable additional benefits that private plans provide.
We must act now to provide every Medicare member with more choices and more savings. Medicare needs a fair system of competition, a system that encourages additional benefits and options for better care at lower cost. Medicare is crucial to elderly Americans. I urge members of both parties to work together to protect and improve Medicare, and to maintain our moral commitment to millions of Americans.
Thank you for listening.