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Aired November 13, 2003 - 14:16   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: The president of the United States on his 17th trip to Floroda since having been elected to that high office. He had a fund-raising lucheon and now he's addressing a group of largely seniors on the issue of Medicare reform. He's law makers to pass a prescription drug benefit bofore they go home for the break, or else. Let's listen.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... a volunteer for the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program. It's called RSVP. She dedicates a lot of time to help other people.

The reason I bring up Tillie is that when people focus on America, they think about our great military might -- and I'll keep our military mighty. They think about our pocketbooks --we're working hard to make sure they're full. The truth of the matter is the great strength of our country is the heart and souls of our citizens, people who are willing to take time out of their day to make somebody else's life better.


And Tillie is such a person. She's leading by example. I love her spirit. I love the example she sets. My call to people here and around our country is to love your neighbor just like you'd like to be loved yourself. Find a way to help somebody in need. Find a way to help somebody who hurts, and the country will be better off. Thank you, Tillie.


Thanks for coming. I'm really, really honored you're here.

Many seniors depend upon Medicare. That's what we're here to talk about. And the Medicare program is a basic trust that must be upheld throughout the generations. Our government has made a commitment to our seniors -- the federal government has made a commitment to our seniors through the Medicare program. We made a commitment to provide good health care for seniors, and we must uphold that commitment.

Each of the seniors that I talked to today understands that Medicare needs to be modernized. It needs to be changed. It needs to be brought into the 21st century. They all want the Medicare system that allows them to pick the health care coverage that best meets their needs. And I want to share with you some of the thoughts that we had. Marge and Mac MacDonald, they take seven different medications at a cost of about $300 a month, and they have no prescription drug coverage. That is not exactly how the planners of Medicare envisioned a senior spending their years of retirement. That's expensive. It's costly. Marge says she's frustrated that Washington has not delivered a prescription drug benefit under Medicare. She says, "I'm tired of the talk." This is her words, not mine. "I'm tired of the talk. Sooner or later, somebody needs to do something. What is the point of retiring at all if you're going to worry about whether you have the money you need to survive?" Marge is right. We've had plenty of talk in Washington. We've debated this issue for a long time. Now is the time for action.


Estelle Baker -- I mentioned Estelle earlier -- she, in addition to her Medicare benefits, she has drug coverage through a supplemental insurance policy. Perhaps some of you all have this same type of arrangement. She said, it's time for all seniors to have that kind of coverage. She said, "Seniors should have the same kind of safety net -- some kind of safety net, and it should be done as soon as possible." In other words, that -- what you're hearing from people is when people retire, they don't want to have to worry. They've been worrying, probably raising their kids and worrying about their jobs and worrying about this and worrying about that. We don't want our seniors worrying about a health care system that is not meeting their needs.

Every senior I've talked to are grateful about the Medicare system, and it's done a lot. In many ways, it's fulfilled the promise, up until recent history, and therefore, the system needs to be undated. That's what we're here to discuss. That's what Congress must hear. They must hear your voice that the system needs to be updated, that while the system has worked, we can do a better job.

Remember, Medicare was created at a time when medicine consisted mostly of house calls and surgery and long hospital stays. That was the nature of medicine when Medicare was created. And therefore, the Medicare system responded to that. Now modern medicine includes preventative care, out-patient procedures, at-home care, and miraculous new prescription drugs. Medicine has changed; Medicare hasn't.

Three-quarters of seniors have some kind of drug coverage, and that's positive news. Yet seniors relying exclusively on Medicare do not have coverage for prescription drugs -- for most prescription drugs, and for many forms of preventative care. That needs to be fixed. This is not good medicine, it's not cost-effective. Medicare needs to change.

For example, Medicare will pay -- I want you to hear this example. Medicare will pay for extended hospital stays for ulcer surgery, at the cost of about $28,000 per patient. That's important coverage, particularly if you have an ulcer. Yet, Medicare will not pay for the drugs that eliminate the cause of most ulcers, drugs that cost about $500 a year. Willing to pay the $28,000 for the hospital stay, but not the $500 to try to keep the person out of the hospital in the first place. To me, that says we've got a system that needs to updated and modernized. It's not enough for Medicare to pay to treat our seniors after they get sick. Medicare should be covering the medications that will be keeping our seniors from getting sick in the first place.

O'BRIEN: The president of the United States, speaking to a group of largely seniors in Orlando, Florida. The subject is Medicare reform, something that he is attempting to put on the front burner before Congress as we speak.


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