[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[January 6, 1998]
[Pages 5-6]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 5]]

Remarks Announcing Proposed Legislation on Medicare
January 6, 1998

    Thank you, Ruth. I think she has made clearer 
than I could ever hope to that, for many Americans, access to quality 
health care can mean the difference between a secure, healthy, and 
productive life, and the enormous burden of illness and worry and 
enormous financial strain.
    Today the proposals I am making are designed to address the problems 
of some of our most vulnerable older Americans. I propose three new 
health care options that would give them the security they deserve. The 
centerpiece of our plan will let many more of these Americans buy into 
one of our Nation's greatest achievements, Medicare.
    When Medicare was first enacted, President Johnson said, and I 
quote, ``It proved that the vitality of our democracy can shape the 
oldest of our values to the needs and obligations of changing times.'' 
Once again we are faced with changing times: a new economy that changes 
the way we work and the way we live; new technologies and medical 
breakthroughs holding out hope for longer, healthier lives; a new 
century brimming with promise but still full of challenge and much more 
rapid change. The values remain the same, but the new times demand that 
we find new ways to create opportunity for all Americans.
    For the past 5 years, we have had an economic strategy designed to 
expand opportunity and strengthen our families in changing times, 
insisting on fiscal responsibility, expanding trade, investing in all 
our people. Yesterday I announced that the budget I will submit to 
Congress in 3 weeks will be a balanced budget, the first one in 30 
years. Within this balanced budget, we propose to expand health care 
access for millions of Americans.
    Last summer, with the balanced budget agreement I signed, we took 
action to extend the life of the Medicare Trust Fund until at least 
2010, and we appointed a Medicare commission to make sure that Medicare 
can meet the needs of the baby boom generation. We took action to root 
out fraud and abuse in the Medicare system, assigning more prosecutors, 
shutting down fly-by-night home health care providers, taking steps to 
put an end to overpayments for prescription drugs. Since I took office, 
we have saved over $20 billion in health care claims, money that would 
have been wasted, gone instead to provide quality health care for some 
of our most vulnerable citizens.
    We want to continue to do everything possible to ensure that the 
same system that served our parents can also serve our children. That 
means bringing Medicare into the 21st century in a fiscally responsible 
way that recognizes the changing needs of our people in a new era.
    We know that for different reasons more and more Americans are 
retiring or leaving the work force before they become eligible for 
Medicare at age 65. We know that far too many of these men and women do 
not have health insurance. Some of them lose their health coverage when 
their spouse becomes eligible for Medicare and loses his or her health 
insurance at work. That's the story we heard today.
    Some lose their coverage when they lose their jobs because of 
downsizing or layoffs. Still others lose their insurance when their 
employers unexpectedly drop their retirement health care plans. These 
people have spent their lifetimes working hard, supporting their 
families, contributing to society. And just at the time they most need 
health care, they are least attractive to health insurers who demand 
higher premiums or deny coverage outright.
    The legislation that I propose today recognizes these new conditions 
and takes action to expand access to health care to millions of 
Americans. First, for the first time, people between the ages of 62 and 
65 will be able to buy into the Medicare program at a fixed premium rate 
that, for many, is far more affordable than private insurance but firmly 
based in the actual cost of insuring people in this age group and, as 
you just heard from what Ruth said, far, far more affordable than the 
out-of-pocket costs that people have to pay if they need it.
    This is an entirely new way of adapting a program that has worked in 
the past to the needs of the future. It is a fiscally responsible plan 
that finances itself by charging an affordable premium up front and a 
small payment later to ensure that this places no new burdens on 
Medicare. It will provide access to health

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care for hundreds of thousands of Americans, and it is clearly the right 
thing to do.
    Second, statistics show that older Americans who lose their jobs are 
much less likely to find new employment. And far too often, when they 
lose their jobs, they also lose their health insurance. Under this 
proposal, people between the ages of 55 and 65 who have been laid off or 
displaced will also be able to buy into Medicare early, protecting them 
against the debilitating costs of unforeseen illness.
    Third, we know that in recent years too many employers have walked 
away from their commitments to provide retirement health benefits to 
longtime, loyal employees. Under our proposal, these employees, also 
between the ages of 55 and 65, will be allowed to buy into their former 
employers' health plans until they qualify for Medicare. And thank you, 
Congressman, for your long fight on this 
    Taken together, these steps will help to take our health care system 
into the 21st century, providing more American families with the health 
care they need to thrive, maintaining the fiscal responsibility that is 
giving more Americans the chance to live out their dreams, shaping our 
most enduring values to meet the needs of changing times. It is the 
right thing to do. And thank you, Ruth, for 
demonstrating that to us today.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:40 a.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the 
White House. In his remarks, he referred to Ruth Kain, a heart patient 
who was denied full health insurance coverage after her husband's 
retirement at age 65; and Representative Gerald D. Kleczka of Wisconsin.