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President Bush Promotes Medicare Reform at Johns Hopkins Hospital

Aired July 13, 2001 - 14:43   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The president of the United States, who is now speaking on Medicare from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Dr. Miller, it's my honor to be here in the number one hospital in the United States.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: To talk about an incredibly important issue, and that's Medicare, and how to make sure it's relevant as we head into the 21st century.

I want to thank you for giving me a chance to come. I am honored to be traveling today with Tommy Thompson. I knew Tommy as a governor. I knew he'd be a great secretary of Health and Human Services, and he proved me right. I appreciate you being here, Tommy.

APPLAUSE)

BUSH: I want to thank Dr. Brody (ph), I want to thank Mr. Peterson (ph), I want to thank Congressman Cummings, Congressman Ehrlich for being here as well. Mr. Mayor, thank you very much for coming, I appreciate the baseball bat with Cal Ripken's signature on it.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: I am so proud of the health care system of America. We're the best in the world. We got the best docs in the world, we got the best research in the world, we got the best hospitals in the world. And I intend to keep it that way.

It's really important that our health care be responsive and innovative and rewarding. And there's some bills coming up in front of Congress now that will help determine the course of medicine, once called the patients' bill of rights.

It's really important that we not have our system laden down by unnecessary lawsuits, that when we pass legislation we keep patients in mind, and make sure patients have direct access to specialists, and make sure patients have the capacity to take their complaints to an independent review organization so that the complaint can be remedied quickly, not held up in a court of law. I think we'll get a pretty good piece of legislation out. I certainly hope so, because it's part of a reform process, all aimed at making our health care system focus on patients and their relationship with doctors.

Big issue also confronting us is Medicare. The other day in the Rose Garden I laid out a Medicare set of guidelines. I'm going to reiterate those here today, but I start off my talk by reminding people that another Texas president, Lyndon Johnson, started Medicare, and he presented former President Harry Truman with the first Medicare card as he outlined the dream of Medicare.

And the truth of the matter is, Medicare has met the goals of America. Seniors are better off as a result of Medicare. But the problem with Medicare is medicine changes. And Medicare is not. Medicine in the United States is changing dramatically, and I witnessed firsthand some of the fascinating technologies taking place in your eye clinic here, and incredibly important changes when it comes to kidney transplants.

And yet, oftentimes as innovation occurs in the health care area, Medicare is stuck in the past. It won't change, because it's too bureaucratic. The other day I said, you know, 1965 is when the program started, and even though a lot of people think the 1965 Mustang was the best car ever made, it wasn't very modern. And even though Medicare may be the best invention to man, it's not very modern today.

And so, in the Rose Garden and here again in Johns Hopkins, I call upon the Congress to work with the administration to modernize Medicare, to make sure the Medicare system reflects the great hopes and promises of the health care in the 21st century.

And what does that mean? Well, it means first and foremost that anybody who likes Medicare today can stay on Medicare, that if you're happy with the Medicare system, getting up in your years, you're not interested in change, that you should be allowed to stay in the system as it is -- in other words, no change. No threats, no problems.

However, Medicare also ought to do what it does for federal employees. The federal Congress ought to say if it's OK for federal employees to have a variety of choices from which to choose, so should America's seniors. If it's OK for people who work for the federal government to be able to pick and choose a plan that meets his or her needs, seniors ought to be able to do that as well, so we need to bring new opportunities and options into Medicare for America's seniors.

All of which must include prescription drug benefits, all of which must understand that part of the innovation that has taken place in the medical arena has included brand-new prescription drugs, and new opportunities for people to have prescription drugs, and prescription drugs need to be an integral part of Medicare, not only the system that exists today, but whatever options seniors choose to use in the future.

Thirdly, any good Medicare system will create competition for service, and will reduce premium. Fourthly, any good Medicare system must have stop loss insurance provided for patients. We have a system in Medicare where there's no telling how much people paid depending upon the complications on the procedure. And that's not right. We stop loss. We need to say to seniors there is a certainty when it comes to your Medicare bills, and that's not the case today in Medicare.

And at the same time, we got to recognize that we need to take care of low-income seniors as well. There's going to be some seniors that simply aren't going to be able to afford much, and our government must be kind and generous in taking care of those seniors. And finally, this system needs to be on sound financial footing.

Trying to figure out Medicare financing is pretty confusing for the layman. We got one fund where everybody says it's got a surplus. We got a second fund that is in significant deficit, and that kind of accounting has got to stop. We need honesty and accounting when it comes to Medicare, by combining both part A and part B into a unified trust, so the American people know exactly what's happening in the Medicare system.

Those are the guidelines I laid out. Pleased to report you yesterday in the Rose Garden there were Democrat members, there were some Republican members, and there was even an independent senator.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: This is an incredibly important issue. Now I understand politics pretty well, and I'm afraid the American people do, too. They've seen what happens with the Medicare issue. That's why in the political vernacular they call it Medi-scare, because somebody comes along and tries to do what's right will have the issue used against them for political purposes.

But the truth of the matter is, I'm not afraid of the issue, because it's the right thing to do. We got a lot of baby boomers like me fixing to retire. And we better make sure we modernize the system to make sure the system is whole and sound for tomorrow's seniors.

But we also have obligation for today's seniors, and the idea that many seniors can't access the latest technology, many seniors on Medicare don't have the same benefit that other seniors do in the private markets who got private insurance, just simply is not right.

WATERS: George W. Bush, the president of the United States, touting reform for the Medicare system.

Parts A and B need to be unified, he said. Medicare needs to be brought out of the past and modernized with such things as: more choices; prescription drug benefits; more competition; what he calls stop-loss to gain a certain certainty about the cost of medical care; and low-income generosity by the government for low-income people; honesty and solid accounting; and meet the needs and the promises of medicine, which are ever changing in the 21st century.

Medicare will be the next major push by the Bush administration in the Congress of the United States.

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