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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Secretary Thompson Holds News Conference To Announce His Resignation

Aired December 3, 2004 - 14:02   ET

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


TOMMY THOMPSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. And, as always, I thank you so very much for coming here today to the Humphrey Building. I appreciate so very much all of the support that all of you have given me over my four years as secretary of this wonderful Department of Health and Human Services.
This morning I submitted to President Bush my resignation as secretary of health and human services. I also met with my senior leadership and dedicated professionals of this wonderful department.

As I told them, I do not tender my resignation easily. While these years have been challenging, they've also been greatly rewarding.

It's been really my honor to serve President Bush as a member of his Cabinet. I thank him for the opportunity. And it's been a privilege to serve the American people as secretary of this wonderful department.

But after nearly 40 years in public service -- 20 years as a state lawmaker, 14 years as governor -- which I consider a great responsibility, but great honor, and I believe one of the great states in America, Wisconsin, my home state -- and four years as HHS secretary -- it's time for me and my family to move on to the next chapter in our life.

I'm proud of the people and the work of America's department of compassion. This department really does a tremendous job. It impacts every man, woman and child every single day.

President Bush set an ambitious agenda for our department when I arrived in 2001, and I love big challenges. And since that day that I walked through the doors of this wonderful building, we have worked tirelessly to put this ambitious agenda into place.

Together we have accomplished many great feats. We've overcome many difficult challenges. Most of you know of our accomplishments the past four years, but in case you may have forgotten, we've provided a small document of progress.

(LAUGHTER)

With the president's leadership, we've accomplished so much, because we took on the tough problems and in doing so, by reaching out, working together and bridging differences, we often made the seemingly impossible possible.

We've touched the third rail of politics and delivered on our promise to modernize Medicare with prescription drug coverage, the most historic improvement to Medicare since it was created back in 1965. Now seniors and the disabled will get substantial help paying for the modern medicines and the preventative services that extend and expand their quality of lives.

THOMPSON: We are spending more on medical research than at any time in our history. And the president opened the door to federal funding of ground-breaking embryonic stem cell research.

We've invested in our long neglected public health system, making our nation better prepared to fight disease or biological attacks. We are improving the safety of the food that we eat and import. We are developing the new medicines and vaccines to protect our citizens from disease or bioterrorism.

Our children are healthier than ever with health coverage and immunization rates at record highs and childhood drug usage going down.

We are helping more people gain the gift of life through a record number of organ donations and transplants.

We turned America's attention to disease prevention, motivating Americans to eat better, exercise more in order to improve their health and quality of life.

And we're waging a bold new global fight against HIV/AIDS, committing an unprecedented $15 billion toward eradicating this scourge. This is going to be a jewel in the president's legacy and this department's history.

THOMPSON: Together, we've also faced challenges that were unpredictable and even unimaginable.

HHS was among the first on the ground to care for New York City residents and assist in the aftermath of 9/11. We were able to deliver drugs and supplies to New York within 10 hours after that first attack.

And from the day I first arrived, we spoke of the need to better prepare for bioterrorism.

And together, we helped this nation weather the first biological attacked on its people with the anthrax letters.

We expanded our cache of smallpox vaccine so we can now protect every man, woman and child if this vicious disease were to return. We have over 400 million doses in our inventory and we have them in our laboratories to protect if we have to vaccinate America.

We protected America from SARS, which we had never heard about, and we helped the world understand the mysterious disease so that we could contain its spread.

We're leading the world to prepare for a world flu pandemic and an avian flu if that happens to become transmissible from human to human.

And together, with our public health partners, we have helped this nation manage an unexpected influenza vaccine shortage.

Together, we helped lead America through each of these crises and we helped our nation emerge from them stronger and healthier.

THOMPSON: I have had remarkable opportunities the last four years, ones I never would have dreamt was ever possible.

I was able to hold young children who had AIDS in orphanages in Russia, China and Africa, who only wanted to be loved after their parents had dies or had given them up because they could not care for them. It was a remarkable thing.

I stood with an African man over the grave of his wife in his front lawn, who asked me to thank you, the taxpayers and the people in this wonderful department for providing life-saving medicines to him and his children so that he could be there to raise them.

I gave polio vaccine to children in Pakistan and India, and I burst with pride, knowing that we were one step closer to eradicating that deadly disease.

I was overwhelmed by the hundreds of women and children who helped us open up a Rabia Balkhi Women's Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan. After decades of brutal rule had denied them the health care they deserved, it was our department that led the efforts to renovate that health facility, making it more accessible and better quality of health for women and children in the capital city of Afghanistan.

THOMPSON: And here at home, seniors from Alaska to Florida demanded that we provide them a prescription drug benefit under Medicare, and I'm happy to say we have delivered for them.

I wept and I thanked the families who lost loved ones, who in turn gave the gift of life to complete strangers by donating their organs. And as you all know, I keep telling people, the Good Lord does not want your organs in heaven, he wants your soul. So leave your organs on earth and allow them to give other people the opportunity to live.

I thank the doctors and nurses and the workers at community health centers who provide high-quality care to American families, regardless of their ability to pay.

And I saw the best of America on the streets and on the hospitals and in the hearts of New York City and the Pentagon, in the days following the 9/11 attacks.

The best of America also was on display here at HHS that horrible day. We could see the smoke from the Pentagon from our office windows. We couldn't get through to our loved ones. It was a frightening day, one that none of us will ever forget.

But on 9/11, we rose to the challenge when our families, friends and neighbors needed us most. HHS was open for business, and we delivered the medical supplies and emergency responders to New York, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania in a matter of hours.

THOMPSON: And on September 12th, it warmed my heart to see employees returning to work, perhaps a bit shaken, but determined to serve the American people. It was my pleasure to meet them in the lobby, to shake their hands and to be able to say thank you, thank them for their dedication and service to America.

That day and every day since, HHS employees have lived up to their hard-earned reputation, which I consider the finest employees in the federal government.

The people in this department have much to be proud of.

You've heard me say often that the best scientists and health experts in the world work in this department, and it's evidenced by the remarkable work that they do each and every day in service to the American people, and the American people clearly appreciate their work, as evidenced by the high regard and competence that they place in this department and its agencies.

So I thank the wonderful, dedicated employees of HHS. It has been a privilege, a privilege to work by your side for the betterment of our society. I will miss this place.

But there is still much to do to better the well-being of Americans.

THOMPSON: I will be working as aggressively as ever until the minute I walk out these doors. And I know my friends at this department will continue leading the country forward.

In closing, I want to again thank President Bush for the opportunity he afforded me to serve as secretary of this dynamic department. I thank his staff for their professionalism and the friendship. And I thank my friends, the people of Wisconsin, for allowing me to leave my job as governor and serve them as a member of the president's Cabinet.

And if you will only bear with me for a few more public thank- yous, I want to extend my appreciation to members of Congress for their support of this department, as well as the governors and the public health and social service leaders in our states and communities. I even want to thank the media...

(LAUGHTER)

We didn't always see eye to eye, but then again, we're not necessarily supposed to under our democracy. But I do appreciate the passion and the care that you brought to covering the issues of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Though I do want to apologize to Al Cayman (ph). I know he's going to take my resignation very hard, and will really miss me. And I'll miss Al too.

And finally, I want to thank my family: my wife, Sue-Anne, my daughters Kelli and Tommi, my son, Jason, and their terrific spouses.

THOMPSON: They've always been there for me, even when I couldn't always be there for them because of my profession.

I also want to thank Claude Allen, the deputy secretary of this department, Scott Whitaker and Bob Wood, two great chiefs of staffs, and all of the other great staff members who are here today, and thank them -- and I even miss Scully (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

And so, thank you all and now I'll be more than happy to take any of your questions.

QUESTION: What are your plans?

THOMPSON: As you all know, the federal rules don't allow you to make any of those plans until you resign, so I have no idea what they are.

But I'm looking forward to the opportunities to go into the private sector. I spent 20 years in the state assembly and then I spent 14 years as governor and four years here as secretary. That's 38 years in the public sector.

And I thought that if I stayed, I would never have the opportunity to really get into the private sector. So I really am looking forward to the possibilities and the potential. And hopefully I'll be able to look back and this is the right decision.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, did you want to stay for the second term or did the president ask you to stay?

THOMPSON: I had gone to the White House about a year ago, I think it was right at the beginning of the fourth year, and asked the chief of staff if it would be problematic if I submitted my resignation. Andy Card at that time asked me if I would serve out the term, and since I believe in what the president and what this administration has done, I agreed to do that.

But I always intended to leave, and I had made that view known to the White House a year ago. And I just continued to do it.

So when I went over there it was pretty perfunctory that I was going to resign.

QUESTION: I'm wondering, of all your accomplishments, what are you most proud of?

THOMPSON: Oh, I'm so proud of so many things.

But I think, you know, when you look back, you got to put the complete overhaul and the complete reworking of the Medicare pretty much at the top of the list; secondly, the fact that we started making America more cognizant of their public health conditions and the need for lifestyle changes; the third, rebuilding the federal and state public health works (ph).

You know, it was really in disarray when I came out here, and now with 9/11, the money that's going back, we're rebuilding the public health infrastructure at both the local and state and federal levels.

THOMPSON: And the fourth, getting involved internationally and domestically on the fight against HIV/AIDS, and of course having the opportunity to travel the world and talk about public health conditions.

And I really would like to -- whatever I do in the private sector, I'm going to stay involved in trying to influence more direction from America to get more involved in medical diplomacy. I really think we are missing out on a great opportunity to use medical diplomacy to break down the barriers around the world and improve the quality of health of people all over the world.

But there are so many things I'm proud of. That's just off the top of my head. Those are just some of the things that I'm very proud of.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) what thoughts or advice would you have for the FDA component of this? It's come under lots of attack from members of Congress and various people wanting to reform (inaudible). Could you think back of any (inaudible) thoughts on this, maybe some things that...

THOMPSON: I've still got an initiative that I'm working on on the FDA that I'm going to be announcing within the next two weeks on how we might be able to improve the conditions there, and I don't want to discuss it today.

But I really think, you know, FDA, for all the criticism it gets, does a remarkably great job for protecting the safety and the health of America and Americans.

THOMPSON: Les Crawford has just done a wonderful job.

And I think that you can always find -- we're all human -- and you're always going to be able to find somebody that's made a mistake here or there. But overall, when you put up the quality of our medicines and drugs and therapies and appliances that have been approved by FDA, you would have to come away with saying that they really do have the gold seal of approval.

And I would like to, you know, to be able to define ways in which we can get drugs to the market faster, but at the same time, find ways in which we can review drugs on a more regular basis to find out if there are some adverse events coming in, that we will be able to monitor them quicker and respond quicker.

And I think, you know, the reporting of adverse events is one of those things that we need to do. And we have to have maybe an independent office of safety to look at the drugs.

And some of those things I'm going to be discussing with you, the press, over the course of the next two weeks. I'm working on those with the FDA, and I would like to lay out some -- further my ideas.

I also would like to ask Congress -- and this is my own personal opinions -- I really think Congress should take a look at the food supplement law again.

THOMPSON: It doesn't make any sense to me, going out, you know, this question was asked of me before. But you require pharmaceutical companies to have to prove the safety of their drugs before they get FDA approval, but at the same time, food supplements, we have to prove, which we did, and we were the first ones to take a food supplement off the market.

But it's a very long process. We have to prove that they're unsafe. Now that to me is a burden of proof that FDA should not be required to do.

I know this is not going to set well with Congress, but you're asking me, and this is something that I think we should do.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, in spite of your conversation a year ago (inaudible), did you express any interest in, more recently in moving to a (inaudible)?

THOMPSON: No, I did not. Never have. I know it's been talked about, but I never have mentioned it to anybody at all.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the number of uninsureds has gone up, and I know you can't be too happy about that.

THOMPSON: No, I'm not.

QUESTION: I wonder what your thoughts are on that and what your suggestions are for dealing with that in the second term.

THOMPSON: What I would like to do, what I think should be done on the uninsured, is I really think what you should do is you should first require a state to put the uninsured in a pool.

THOMPSON: And if you look at the statistics of those people that are uninsured, you will find that there's a lot of those that are very insurable and healthy. A good share of them, almost one-third of them, are under the age of 30, and almost 18 percent of them are making over $50,000-some.

So it would be a good insurable risk, so you would do that, set up a pool of the uninsured.

And then have the state set up either a commission or a commissioner to negotiate with the insurance companies to put in bids. And then use the tax credits that the president's talking about to be able to buy in.

So collectively you would have the tax credits, you would have a pool of uninsured that should be quite insurable. And then they would negotiate. And then you would use the tax credits to buy that down, and you would have, I think, a very successful program to get more people covered under that kind of a scenario.

And I would like to see that advanced.

THOMPSON: I've got some other ideas, but that's just one right off -- that I've been talking about.

QUESTION: Will you be recommending Mark McClellan for your job or do you think it's more important he stay at CMS to implement the drug benefit?

THOMPSON: You all know that I think Mark McClellan is an outstanding young man. He would be a great secretary. And I know that he is being mentioned.

I also know that Claude Allen, who is also an outstanding person, which would do a great job.

I heard last night that Newt Gingrich was interested. I don't know if that's true or not, but that's what somebody told me. That's hearsay.

Tony Fauci and Elias Zerhouni, Julie Gerberding. You know, we're blessed in this department with some real outstanding people. And I think any one of those individuals would do an outstanding job as secretary and carry on with the great progress we made.

The president's not asked for my opinion and rightly so. But I think any one of those -- and if it's Mark, I think we will be very happy with that decision.

QUESTION: Have you been involved with choosing a permanent FDA commissioner or is the administration waiting until after you're replaced to do that?

THOMPSON: Well, you know, I think Les Crawford has just done an outstanding job. And I know that has not received the kind of support that I think he deserves.

THOMPSON: But the president, I'm sure, is going to be picking a Cabinet secretary and then we'll be consulting with his staff and with the new secretary as to who the new FDA director should be.

QUESTION: Could there another run for governor of Wisconsin in our future?

THOMPSON: It's entirely possible.

(LAUGHTER)

I happen to love politics and I -- why would I say no? I mean, you know, there is a Senate seat open. You know, I may not like the private sector.

And so, I'm not going to say today that I would never run again, and I also understand that the mayor of Elroy's seat is open, so...

(LAUGHTER)

I certainly, you know -- I love politics and I would be involved either as a candidate or as a strong supporter in the future. But I'm not going to say no to anything.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) provider community, specifically the (inaudible) industry, what do you think your legacy will be?

THOMPSON: Well, I think the first thing you have to look at is the fact that when I came in, HIPAA was going to be going into effect. And if you remember correctly, we came in and hospitals and the clinics and the doctors and researchers were just apoplectic about the fact that they were not going to be able to deliver services because of the tremendous bureaucratic entanglements and inconsistencies that were done in HIPAA.

We immediately, you know, set out to fix that. And as you know, there has been -- HIPAA is working quite nicely. I mean, you still can find somebody that criticized, but not the overwhelming kind of opposition that had developed when we came in.

THOMPSON: So we took care of that immediately.

Secondly, as you know, we have updated the reimbursement systems in hospitals and providers, and even though there's been some criticism, it's been pretty much well-received, thanks to people in this room.

A third thing, of course, if Medicare. That is a huge -- and the more you look at the Medicare Modernization Act, which Tom Scully and I and Jennifer Young spent hours on, is going to come out as a wonderful law. And the more you look at it, you're going to find the more people are going to come around to the conclusion that this is tremendous. Nobody's ever tried before in Medicare to set up a program in which you're going to have prevention and a pre-induction physical.

This was one of my -- if there's one thing that I'm really excited about in the Medicare Modernization, it's the fact that Nancy Johnson and myself teamed up and got that provision in for pre- induction physicals and then to monitor diseases -- tremendous step forward in transforming it.

And finally, you know, the thing that we're doing in information technology. I think the medical system -- if we're really serious about transforming the medical system, which I am, you're going to have to drive technology.

The way we have the health care system and practice it in a curative way, waiting for somebody to get sick instead of trying to prevent it, is just backwards. And we have to change that. And computers can improve the quality of health, reduce mistakes, and so on.

And, you know, doctors have get straight A's to get into any medical school in America, except for one grade. And that grade is handwriting. It has not improved any over the years.

THOMPSON: And technology can prevent those mistakes from happening.

So we've done so much in that area, and I think that's why most of the hospital associations and nursing homes -- we've put in quality initiatives. Never before -- this is one thing that Tom Scully worked so hard on, having quality initiatives for nursing homes and home health and hospitals.

You know, things like this haven't happened. Now people are looking on the Internet to find out where they should place mother and father or husband or wife in a nursing home, because they can look at the quality standards. And we're going to have that for hospitals -- tremendous progress forward for the consumer.

QUESTION: With AIDS and (inaudible) another flu pandemic, all of these things, bioterrorism, can you say what worries you most as you leave office?

THOMPSON: Thank you for that question. I was hoping somebody'd ask me, because I really want to talk about that.

There are two things that really worry me yet, and the big one is pandemic flu. H5N1 is the avian flu, and right now the avian flu, there has been 40 individuals that have come down with avian flu, and 30 have died. That is huge lethality. No other disease has had that kind of lethality before.

And we do not have a vaccine. We do not have a therapy for H5N1. Now, NIH is working on a vaccine, and we're going to have it go through some human protocols this month, and we're hoping that'll work out.

But then you're going to have to find a way that you're going to manufacture it.

THOMPSON: And using the egg-based (ph) way of doing it is just too slow and laborious in order to make the changes necessary. I really want to push the cell-cultured way of developing new flu vaccines.

And so I'm very concerned about H5N1, very concerned about pandemic flu because we're not prepared for it. And three years ago I asked Congress for $100 million, got $50 million. And this past year I asked for $100 million, got $60 million. And I'm putting in the budget this year for $125 million for more work on pandemic flu.

I really consider -- this is a really huge bomb out there that could adversely impact on the health care of the world. The World Health Organization has indicated it could be 30 million to 70 million people dying from a pandemic flu. And so this is my huge concern.

The second big concern I have is still -- even though we made great progress in getting people aware about pandemic flu and getting things prepared for it, but we're not there yet. We've got a lot of work to do.

And the second big area that we've done a lot of work on that I'm happy about the work we've done, but I'm still very much worried about it every single night is food poisoning.

I, for the life of me, cannot understand why the terrorist have not, you know, attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do. And we are importing a lot of food from the Middle East, and it would be easy to tamper with that.

And when I came here we were only doing about 12,000 inspections of imports. Now we're up to about 98,000, which is a huge increase, but it's still -- you know, with the number of imports increasing, you know, we've increased the number and the percentage, but it still is a very minute amount that we're doing.

And we have to develop better technologies. And we passed the Food Technology Safety Act, which we drafted here in this department, which allows us, for the first time, to require people to notify us when they're going to import food into America. And we've also got ways in which we can reject that -- which we never had before.

So we got more tools.

But I'm still -- those two areas need a lot more work, and I'm very concerned about both of those individuals, both individual subjects. QUESTION: What's the status of the flu shot business that you've been looking at (OFF-MIKE)?

THOMPSON: Pardon?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) doses from overseas (OFF-MIKE)?

THOMPSON: You're going to have to come back on Monday afternoon, because I'm having a press conference on that subject on Monday afternoon.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

THOMPSON: I wrote in my letter of resignation February 4th or when my successor is confirmed.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) questions about the conflict of interest policies and ethics at the National Institutes of Health?

THOMPSON: Yes.

QUESTION: How do you think that should be resolved?

THOMPSON: Well, I think, you know, you got a huge problem about this because -- I think that we want the best researchers and scientists working for us at the National Institutes of Health, and if you restrict them too much, those same doctors and scientists can go to at least a dozen different places, a dozen different universities.

And so, you want to make sure that the conflict of interest rules and regulations are not so restrictive that we're not able to attract the best scientists and doctors in the world to come to work for NIH and this department.

On the second hand, you have to be sure, you know, that there is not such a blatant conflict that poor science goes on or poor medicines get passed on, so it's really a balancing task.

THOMPSON: And I think Elias Zerhouni is just doing a wonderful job in trying to balance those two different, competing interests. And he's working hard.

He's getting a lot of flak from the scientists who think he's restricting too much. He's meeting with them. But it's a really delicate situation. And I thought the best thing for me to do was to allow to Elias to handle that, instead of for me to get involved.

I know my lawyers are working with Elias, and I really want them to try and work it out with the scientists, because I want the best scientists and researchers to come to this great department, and I want them to find a cure for breast cancer, I want them to find a cure for Parkinson's disease and type-1 childhood diabetes.

And we can do that, and I think we have to do that.

And I also would like, you know, as long as you mention National Institutes of Health, since you're asking me now and I feel no reluctance on giving you my own opinions and ideas, I really would like us to do more as far as translational research and getting it to the bedside sooner.

And I would really like us to put more emphasis on regenerative medical and more on finding cures. I think, you know, we have a lot of cure potentials out there, but I don't see us really maximizing the science that we're spending money for all the way through.

I think we need to be more focused on a particular subject matter, take the scientists and science and say, "We're going to find a cure for breast cancer, we're going to find a cure for Parkinson's, we're going to find a cure for that."

And that's something, if I was going to stay, I was going to drive in the future. But since I'm not staying, I give you those ideas, so maybe some of my ideas will be picked up in the press and somebody will say they're good ideas and follow through on them.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) if Senator John Breaux were asked by the president to head HHS?

THOMPSON: You've got to realize that I think that John Breaux is a wonderful human being. He's very bright. He knows his subjects. And he happens to be a friend of mine.

And I would think that he would be an outstanding secretary.

And I also see Tom Scully is here, and maybe he would be secretary, too.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Are you at all concerned about drug safety and unsafe products on the market might slow down integration in bringing new drugs to market, that maybe the pendulum might swing too far in the other direction?

THOMPSON: It's entirely possible, and that's why I'm thinking maybe we should really explore the possibility of continuing the movement forward to get drugs to the market, but have more of an independent review of safety office to look at those medicines, keep doing it, require adverse incident reports to be submitted and all of these things.

But these are my ideas. I feel very free to tell you exactly how I feel.

QUESTION: When you talked about looking for more cures and wanting to speed up that process, do you think that the administration's stem cell policy has hindered that? And do you think it should be reconsidered?

THOMPSON: I didn't -- I'm sorry, I didn't catch... QUESTION: Do you think the administration's stem cell policy has hindered some of the search for cures that you're talking about, and should it be reconsidered?

THOMPSON: Well, the stem cell policy is working.

THOMPSON: And before you start criticizing, you should recognize the fact that there are many stem cell lines still to be made available, and the research on them is not complete at all.

And one of the problems are -- what I really would like to see in the embryonic stem cell -- and I think that's where you're going. Let me talk to you a little bit about embryonic stem cells -- it's a subject I'm quite knowledgeable about -- is that we need more scientists involved in it.

I think the failure -- if there's a failure in our policy, it's not recruiting enough scientists to go into the field to look at embryonic stem cells.

We have plenty of cells available right now. That doesn't mean that maybe in the future you're going to have to review the policy. But right now, for the foreseeable future, you have got to be able to look at the fact that there are lines available that are not being utilized and researched.

I think there are -- my last count, there are 3,500 packages of cell signs (ph) ready to be sold or distributed for researchers and nobody's there to do it.

So you need, number one, the researchers to get involved in it.

The second thing you've got to do is you got to teach them how to handle the embryonic stem cells because in order to grow and differentiate the embryonic stem cells that are (inaudible) potent, you have to be able to understand how to do that.

And so many scientists want to come into the field, but don't have the expertise to that. And we've seen too many examples where embryonic stem cell lines have been sent out to a researcher that gets them and then looks at them and doesn't know how to grow them, and therefore, they die.

THOMPSON: And that is a waste.

So you got to have the researcher, then you got to teach them how to culture them, how to grow them, and how to differentiate them. We need that.

And the third thing we need to do is we need to take a look at placenta stem cells, and we haven't done enough work on placenta stem cells, as well as cells from an unfertilized egg, which also have great potential.

So there's many areas. And so, you know, people just are looking at one subject. They think, you know, because there's been so much publicity about that particular thing, the limitations of the embryonic stem cells based back to August 9th, 2001, that that is the issue.

But the problem is, when you look at it, there are enough stem cells for research, but you have to do more. You've got those available.

Now, once they're used up and find out that maybe that there needs to be more, then, at that particular point in time, you may have to review the policy. But at this point in time, it is not necessary.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, if Mark McClellan indeed succeeds you, how would his departure from CMS affect the implementation of the Medicare Modernization Act?

THOMPSON: Well, I think, you know, we are working so hard right now, there's going to be a lot of decisions about CMS and about the Medicare Modernization Act, which in fact we're working on this afternoon, and we'll be making a lot of announcement next week, and I know you'll be coming back for some further rollouts of that.

I think that it's going to go very well. I see Leslie Norwalk is here, and Mary Kay Mantho (ph) and other people from CMS that work extremely hard and are working very hard.

THOMPSON: I don't think it would slow down at all. And I know Scott Whitaker, my chief of staff, has been doing the coordination of all of the work on CMS, and so that will continue.

QUESTION: You listed the drug benefit as one of your proudest achievements. Was there anything that you really pushed for in that bill that didn't get in or that you would like to see Medicare tackle in the future?

THOMPSON: I would like to have had the opportunity to negotiate.

Thank you. See you.

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