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Special Event

Clinton Holds News Briefing on Proposed Medicare Reform and Possible Tobacco Regulation

Aired February 29, 2000 - 9:50 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DONNA KELLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, we want to take you on CNN's for live coverage, as the president gets ready to talk about a Medicare proposal that he wants to tell us about. It's a state-by- state study. And they want to talk about Medicare reform. And the president, of course, has been pushing the prescription drug benefits that he would like to see added with his Medicare reform.

He's getting ready for a Democratic fundraising in Florida. And before he goes, he will talk about this Medicare reform program.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good morning. I would like to say just a couple of words, about two subjects vital to the health of the American people: Medicare and tobacco.

Throughout the life of this administration, Vice President Gore and I have done everything we could to protect our children from the dangers of tobacco. Five years ago, we put forward a landmark rule affirming the FDA's authority to regulate tobacco products. Since that time, the tobacco industry has fought our efforts at every turn.

I'm heartened today by news reports that the nation's leading cigarette maker is now willing to accept government regulation of tobacco. If Philip Morris is ready to supply -- support the FDA provisions of the tobacco bill, the industry and the congressional leadership killed just two years ago, that is an important step forward.

Every day 3,000 young people smoke for the first time and 1,000 of them will die earlier as a result. We have a duty to do everything we can to save and lengthen their lives by protecting our young people from the dangers of tobacco.

I also want to comment briefly about an important new report I am releasing today on the future of Medicare. I am pleased to be joined here today by some of the nation's foremost leaders on behalf of our senior citizens, along with a number of seniors who know from their personal experiences what Medicare means to their lives.

In the 34 years since it was created, Medicare has eased the suffering and extended the lives of tens of millions of Americans. It has given young families piece of mind, knowing they will not have to mortgage their children's future to pay for their parents' health care. If we want our children to have the same piece of mind when our generation retires, we must act now to strengthen Medicare.

When I became president, the Medicare trust fund was scheduled to go broke last year, 1999. Because of the tough actions we have taken, the life of the trust fund has been extended by 16 years. Still, we must do more. The trust fund is projected to go broke now by 2015.

And the new report I am issuing shows why. Not only will the senior population nearly double over the next 25 years, but, already today, in 40 of our 50 states, one in 10 Medicare beneficiaries is 85 years of age or older. This is the fastest growing group of seniors, and they require the greatest amount of care. They will spend, consider this, almost a quarter of their lives on Medicare.

The report also shows that in every state in America there are more women on Medicare than men. On average, 57 percent women, 43 percent men. This report is the most compelling evidence to date that we must strengthen and modernize Medicare for the long run, including adding a voluntary prescription drug benefit.

With our economy strong, our budget balanced, our people confident, now is the time to deal with this important issue. The budget I propose does just that, while maintaining our surplus and paying down our debt over the next 13 years to make us debt-free for the first time since 1835. It uses the savings from debt-reduction to lengthen the life of Social Security and Medicare. It uses competition and the best promises...

KELLEY: He was getting ready to go to Florida for a Democratic fund-raising -- a couple of events there, actually. But, talking about a state- by-state study on Medicare reform this morning, including adding prescription drug benefit.

President talking about how Medicare has made lives better. But if we want that to continue, that changes must be made. Otherwise, the program, as it stands now, they are projecting that it would go broke now in 2015, and that the senior population will double by the year -- will rather double in 25 years. So, he says, now is the time to strengthen it for the long run.

Now, some Republicans are saying that there's a little bit too much cost here. And that they want to offer a benefit only to the neediest beneficiaries.

The president's program wants to spend $430 billion over the next decade to extend the Medicare solvency to 2025, and then to cover up to $5,000 a year in prescription drugs. President also noting that tobacco now, Philip Morris, is willing to negotiate over government regulation of the industry.

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