Good morning. This week the United States Congress passed historic legislation
to strengthen and modernize Medicare. Under the House and Senate bills, American
seniors would, for the first time in Medicare's 38-year history, receive prescription
We're taking action because Medicare has not kept up with the advances of
modern medicine. The program was designed in the 1960s, a time when hospital
stays were common and drug therapies were rare. Now, drugs and other treatments
can reduce hospital stays while dramatically improving the quality of care.
Because Medicare does not provide coverage to pay for these drugs, many seniors
have to pay for prescriptions out of pocket, which often forces them to make
the difficult choice of paying for medicine or meeting other expenses.
In January I submitted to Congress a framework for Medicare reform that insisted
on giving seniors access to prescription drug coverage and offering more choices
under Medicare. The centerpiece of this approach is choice. Seniors should
be able to choose the health care plans that suit their needs. When health
care plans compete for their business, seniors will have better, more affordable
options for their health coverage. Members of Congress and other federal employees
already have the ability to choose among health care plans. If choice is good
enough for lawmakers, it is good enough for America's seniors.
I'm pleased to see that Congress has accepted the principle of choice for
seniors. Under the provisions of both the House and Senate bills, seniors
who want to stay in the current Medicare system will have that option, plus
a new prescription drug benefit. Seniors who want enhanced benefits, such
as coverage for preventative care and a cap on out-of-pocket costs, will
have that choice, as well.
Seniors who like the affordablity of managed care plans will be able to
enroll in such plans. And low-income seniors will receive extra help so that
all seniors will have the ability to choose a Medicare option that includes
prescription drug benefits.
My framework for Medicare reform also called for immediate help to seniors
through a prescription drug discount card. And I'm pleased that both the
House and Senate bills would make a discount card available to seniors. The
card would help senior citizens by reducing their prescription drug costs,
beginning early next year and continuing until the new prescription drug
program under Medicare takes full effect in 2006.
The Congress must now pass a final bill that makes the Medicare system work
better for America's seniors. This is an issue of vital importance to senior
citizens all across our country. They have waited years for a modern Medicare
system and they should not have to wait any longer.
Earlier this month in Chicago I met Gene Preston and his wife Dorothy. They
spend about $300 a month on prescription drugs and they do not have prescription
drug coverage. Gene says, "Everything is going up in price. Before,
we could save a couple of bucks at the end of the month. But right now we're
just holding even, if not going below even." When Congress completes
its work, seniors like Gene and Dorothy Preston can look forward to better
health care coverage and relief from the rising cost of prescription drugs.
I appreciate the hard work of members of Congress who have set aside partisan
differences to do what is best for the American people. I urge members to
seize this opportunity to achieve a great and compassionate goal. I urge
them to finish the job of strengthening and modernizing Medicare, so that
I can sign this crucial reform into law.