[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[February 18, 1998]
[Pages 236-238]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks on the Children's Health Care Initiative
February 18, 1998

    Thank you. Didn't she do a good job? Give her a hand. [Applause] 
Thank you, Linda. Ned Zechman, thank you. Thank you, Secretary Shalala, for your wonderful work. And I thank the First 
Lady for what is now a more than 25-
year crusade to bring quality health care to children. We're delighted 
to be joined by Mayor Barry and members 
of the DC City Council; Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton; and Congresswoman Diana DeGette, from Colorado; and many, many child advocates in this 
audience who have been working on these issues a long, long time.
    Last month in the State of the Union Address, I asked the American 
people to work together to strengthen our Nation for a new century and 
especially to build the right kind of future for all our children, with 
world-class education and quality, affordable health care.
    Let me begin by thanking the men and women who work in this hospital 
for their efforts to restore our most fragile children to health, to 
give many of them second chances at life. This is a place where medicine 
shines and miracles happen every day. But it should not take a miracle 
to ensure that children like Linda's children have the care and 
insurance they need to stay healthy and to be treated when they're sick.
    I still have a hard time believing that this country, with the 
finest health care system in the world, cannot figure out how to give 
affordable, quality health insurance coverage to every single child in 
    Step by step, we are working hard to make sure all Americans get the 
health care they deserve. Two years ago we passed a law, and I signed a 
law, to make sure every American could keep his or her insurance when 
they change jobs or when someone in the family is ill. Last year, in the 
historic balanced budget agreement, we extended the life of the Medicare 
Trust Fund for more than a decade. We also made this unprecedented $24 
billion commitment to provide health care to up to 5 million more 
children, and I want to say more about that, obviously.
    In addition to implementing the provisions of the balanced budget 
law to cover children, this year we're also going to attempt to pass a 
health care consumer bill of rights, which is

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all the more important since 160 million Americans are now in managed 
care plans. We want to extend Medicare to Americans age 55 to 65 who 
have lost their health insurance who can buy into the program. And of 
course we want to protect all our children from the dangers of tobacco, 
and we're hoping and praying for a comprehensive resolution of that 
    But let's go back to the question of covering children. Congress 
appropriated the money, $24 billion over 5 years, with the goal of 
insuring 5 million of the 10 million children who don't today have 
health insurance. Now, 3 million--as the First Lady said, 3 million of 
the 10 million kids who don't have health insurance are eligible for the 
Medicaid program today. If we could get 100 percent of those children 
into the Medicaid program, we could actually insure more than 5 million 
children for the $24 billion. But if we don't get any new children into 
the Medicaid program, or very few, then we're going to have a very hard 
time meeting that 5 million goal.
    So this issue of not only helping the children and their families 
but also the hospitals and the providers who have to be reimbursed for 
the care they give, with expanding the Medicare program to the children 
who are eligible, is profoundly important if we are to reach what I know 
is the goal of every person in this audience, which is to provide 
affordable health insurance coverage to our children.
    Now, this children's health initiative, that was part of the 
balanced budget agreement, is part of the kind of the vision of 
Government that has driven our administration from its first days. I 
always believed that we had to get rid of the deficit and balance the 
budget, because otherwise the economy wouldn't work right, we couldn't 
get interest rates down, we couldn't have new investment for businesses 
to create new jobs, people couldn't afford to buy homes--we'd have all 
kinds of problems. But I also always believed that we had to do it in a 
way that left more money to invest in our future, particularly in 
education and health care and the environment and the things that will 
shape the quality of life. So that's what we're trying to do.
    But I want to say again, just the fact that this money has been 
appropriated is not enough. We cannot let the appropriation of money 
just sit there. We can't just have laws on paper that say we're going to 
cover 5 million more people. Those of you who work in these programs 
understand that this is a complex and challenging task.
    Most of these children are like Linda's children. Most of these kids 
that we're trying to cover are the children of working people who are 
working hard and doing their very best every day and paying their taxes 
and simply cannot afford a traditional health insurance plan. One of the 
ways that we have to deal with this is to expand Medicaid coverage to 
the 3 million who are already eligible under the law. One of the most 
shocking things to people who don't have this problem is to find out 
that huge numbers of these kids are prevented from getting medical care 
simply because their parents don't know they're eligible.
    Therefore, all of us have an obligation to see to it that every 
child who can take advantage of this historic investment in health care 
does so, and does it now, beginning with the Medicaid program. The 
Federal Government must do its part. States and businesses and 
individuals must step up to the plate. And our message to parents and to 
teachers, to preachers and to coaches must be: What you do not know can 
hurt your children. You have to find out if your child is eligible for 
the Medicaid program.
    Today I am launching an all-out effort to let every family know 
about health insurance, whether it's Medicaid or another State program 
that is currently or soon will be available, because there are now new 
children's health programs coming on line under the program passed in 
the balanced budget bill.
    In a few moments, I will sign an Executive memorandum directing the 
eight Federal agencies who run our children's programs, such as WIC and 
food stamps, to cooperate in a comprehensive effort to make sure that 
every family gets the information they need to enroll their children, 
whether from an agency employee or from pamphlets, toll-free numbers, or 
simplified application forms. And I call on Congress to pass the new 
funds I am requesting in this balanced budget to help States publicize 
their new child health programs and their child centers and enroll the 
children in Medicaid automatically, even as they wait for final approval 
of their applications.

[[Page 238]]

    Next, and most important, every State must take responsibility for 
ensuring that every eligible child within its borders gets insured. 
Medicaid is one of the best ways to expand health insurance to more 
children, and it is a State-run program. I'm pleased to announce that 
Colorado and South Carolina will join Alabama as the first States to 
expand insurance coverage to more uninsured children under the bill we 
passed last year.
    But you should know that over 40 more States are well on their way 
to expanding their own insurance programs. I applaud the Governors for 
their commitment and their innovative efforts to enroll more children. 
And I thank Ray Scheppach from the 
Governors' Association for being here today. We can't rest until every 
State has a program and a commitment to implement it.
    Finally, the private sector has to help us get the job done. Many 
businesses and foundations have already joined in. Bell Atlantic will 
provide the leadership to establish a new 800 number that will direct 
families to State agencies in charge of Medicaid. Safeway has agreed to 
put the 800 number on their shopping bags. The National Association of 
Chain Drug Stores and the National Community Pharmacists Association 
will help us get the word out whenever parents pick up prescriptions. 
Pampers has agreed to include a letter in parent education packages that 
go to millions of new mothers in the hospital. I thank all of them for 
being exemplary corporate citizens.
    And I'm pleased to announce the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and 
the Kaiser Family Foundation have committed more than $23 million to 
finding better ways to expand coverage and outreach efforts. America's 
Promise, the outgrowth of the Presidents' Summit on Service, made a 
healthy future for all children one of its five goals. And along with 
the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Hospital Association, 
the National Association of Education, all have launched their own 
efforts to target and enroll uninsured children. And I thank them.
    This is an extraordinary partnership to make sure that every child 
gets the health coverage he or she needs to have a fair and healthy shot 
at life. But it is only the first step. We need every parent, every 
grandparent, doctor, nurse, health care provider, teacher, business 
leader, foundation, every community all across America to work until 
they find the ways to reach all our children who can be covered by 
Medicaid or by the new children's health insurance program.
    Like all parents, Hillary and I know from experience that nothing 
can weigh more heavily on your mind than the health of your child. The 
slightest cough, the most minor accident can cause enormous worry. I can 
barely imagine what it would be like to also have to worry about finding 
the money to pay for your children's health care in the first place.
    Too many parents live with these worries every day. Millions of our 
fellow Americans--people who are dedicated citizens, people who get up 
every day and go to work, people who pay the taxes they owe to the 
Government, people who do everything that is expected of them and still 
have to worry about the health care of their children for lack of 
insurance coverage. This is wrong. If we really want to make America 
strong for the 21st century, we will correct it. We have the tools; it 
is now up to us to use them.
    Thank you very much, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 1:43 p.m. in the atrium at Children's 
Hospital. In his remarks, he referred to Linda Haverman, mother of two 
boys who had received health insurance through Medicaid, who introduced 
the President; Ned Zechman, president, Children's Hospital; Mayor Marion 
S. Barry, Jr., of the District of Columbia; and Raymond C. Scheppach, 
executive director, National Governors' Association.