Public Papers

Remarks to the Conference on Healthy Children Ready To Learn


The President. Thank you, Dr. Sullivan. And might I just say at the beginning of these brief remarks that I am very proud of Lou Sullivan and what he's doing as Secretary of HHS. He's doing a superb job, and we all are grateful to him. And when Dr. Novello and Lou suggested I could be here, let me just say it's a pleasure to be here today to help launch this historic conference.

I particularly want to thank our Surgeon General, Antonia Novello. I see she brought most of her family with her. [Laughter] No, but let me just say this: As an observer with a pretty good observation post, she's inspired people all across the country with her example and her message. And she sums it up this way, she sums up the message better than anyone: ``All children have a right to be healthy.'' Then she says, ``We need to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.''

And that's why you've gathered here this week, and you've come to lead a great movement of parents and doctors and teachers and public programs and private enterprise, a movement destined to transform America. And here's our goal -- what's that guy got going? [Laughter] I think it's wonderful these kids are here, I really do. Makes me feel right at home.

Here's our goal: By the year 2000, every American child will start school healthy and ready to learn. Our success will provide a lifetime of opportunity for our children. And it will guarantee the health and safety of our families and neighborhoods, and it will ensure that America remains the undisputed leader of the world. Now, I am proud that our administration is part of this movement. In this administration, families come first.

We're proud to join hands with people like Trish Solomon Thomas, who's come from New Mexico to be here this afternoon. A little history: She has two children, both of them with special health needs. And she perfectly expressed the spirit of our movement when she said, ``I used to be shy, but I had to learn to stand up for my kids.'' And that's why we're here, to stand up for our kids. And we will not let them down.

Our movement draws its strength from Trish and the millions of parents like her. The title of this conference says it all, ``Healthy Children Ready To Learn: The Critical Role of Parents.'' Now, parents are a child's first teachers, offering the love and spiritual nourishment that no Government program can ever hope to provide.

And if I can brag for just a minute here today, you may know of Barbara's work promoting literacy. And I'm very proud of her. She wants to help parents understand just how important it is to read to their kids. And when parents read aloud to their young ones, they open their children to the joy of a larger world; they teach the self-assurance and curiosity that comes from learning. Barbara asked me to extend her best wishes. She's down on a learning program, an education program, right this minute in the State of Mississippi. [Applause] Don't know whether you're clapping because she's there or because she's interested in education, but nevertheless -- -- [laughter]

Audience member. Mississippi.

The President. Oh, a little Mississippi delegation here.

But anyway, our movement instills the habits of good health, wholesome nutrition, sound hygiene, and protective measures like early immunization. Parents know learning and health are two sides, really, of the same coin.

And again, parents, families, communities are the key. But Government can help, must help. Last June, for example, Dr. Sullivan and I, with able advice from Dr. Novello, took steps to ensure that no American child is at risk from deadly diseases like polio, diphtheria, and measles. And we launched an initiative to support childhood immunizations, especially immunizations for kids in the early years of life. Now, that's a crucial step toward meeting our goal. And I'm proud we've been able to help. Since 1988, we've more than tripled the dollars for Federal immunization efforts, from million to 7 million for 1992.

On Friday, Dr. Sullivan and the Surgeon General and I, we were just talking about it outside, were out in San Diego, and we had the privilege of visiting Logan Heights Family Health Center to see firsthand the benefits of this initiative. We spoke with parents and community leaders, and every one of them stressed the importance of early immunization in preventing illness.

Logan Heights, one of many, I'm sure, but it's a perfect example of what can be done if concerned individuals set their minds to it. The center was founded by a wonderful woman named Laura Rodriguez, who's become one of our administration's what we call Points of Light, helping others, setting an example in the process. Laura saw a need, and with hard work and dedication, she rolled up her sleeves and did something about it. Logan Heights now serves 75,000 patients a year. So, I say thank God for people like Laura. She's an example for all of us. And there are many, many other examples right here in this room.

And for those kids who need a head start in preparing for school, we've made sure that they'll get it. In the last 3 years, we have almost doubled the funding for Head Start programs, and this year I have proposed the largest single increase in Head Start's history, 0 million. This year's increase will ensure that 157,000 more kids will be able to start school ready to learn.

Head Start brings children and parents into the classroom, into the learning process. Head Start works because parents take the lead. You may not know this, but volunteers in Head Start outnumber paid staff by eight to one. Head Start works because people care. And we're making sure it continues to work. If it's good for America's kids, it's good for America.

These are important steps. But there's more to do. And we must address the larger issues of American health care. And last week, I proposed a four-point plan to do just that. Every American family must have access to affordable, high-quality care.

I don't need to tell you that the American health care system has problems. The crisis has probably touched many of you right here in this room. Right now, more than 8 million children go without health insurance because skyrocketing costs have placed coverage beyond the reach of their parents. And even parents who are covered worry about losing their family's insurance if they move on to a different job or, worse still, lose the job they have. You shouldn't have to live with this kind of uncertainty. No American family should. And my proposal will put an end to that.

And yet, I think we should keep one thing in mind. It's important to remember: For all its problems the system, our health care system, still provides the best health care in the world. And that's why people from all over the world come here seeking better care. Most often they're trying to escape health care systems in which the government dictates how much care you'll get and what kind you'll get and when you'll get it. In America, that's unacceptable.

Our great challenge, then, is to keep what works in our system and then reform what doesn't work. We must maintain a maximum freedom of choice and the highest quality care. And at the same time, we must make sure that our children have access to health care their parents can afford, sick or healthy, rich or poor. That's what this four-point plan does, and let me just briefly spell it out for you.

First, to make health care more affordable and accessible, I want a ,750 tax credit for low-income families to help them buy health insurance. For middle-income families, I've proposed a tax deduction for the same amount. Poor people, those who don't file taxes, would be covered under this plan.

Second, to cut costs, we will make health care more efficient. The math is simple; the larger the group being covered, the lower the cost per individual. So what we've done is this: We've proposed health insurance networks that bring companies together to cut administrative costs and make insurance affordable for working parents.

And third, we must cut out the waste and abuse. We can start with medical malpractice lawsuits that drive up the cost of care for everyone. A doctor pestered with frivolous litigation ends up passing his legal costs right along to you, the American people, and right along to the patient. And when you go to the doctor, I don't want you to have to pay a lawyer, too. Just pay the doctor.

And finally, we must slow the spiraling costs of Federal health programs. These costs are rising far beyond the rate of inflation, which only endangers important benefits while making less money available for other pressing needs.

There it is, a commonsense reform that will maintain high-quality care, cut costs, ensure maximum freedom of choice, and give every family, rich or poor, sick or healthy, access to health care. I know how important this is, particularly for parents who have children with special needs. And my plan will assure that you can change jobs without endangering the health insurance your child depends on. We're building on our system's strengths. And we're avoiding the pitfalls of nationalized care, the kind that people from all over the world come to America to escape.

All these approaches for meeting our goal of ``Healthy Children Ready To Learn'' must build on a basic truth: In this country families come first. Government programs that overtake the rightful role of families and communities, that deny them the freedom of choice or bind them up in redtape, are simply unacceptable. Our movement is about strengthening families.

And over the next few days I'm told you will continue a great national dialog, share information, explore new ideas, and then return to your communities to lead the good fight. Your commitment is an inspiration, and I thank you for inviting me by to get a feeling of it firsthand. And may God bless all of you.

And now this little guy, I've got to tell you, those in the back, when I walked in and was sitting here looking very serious waiting for the doctor to introduce me, this guy in the blue, he goes like this to me. [Laughter] And I had to tell him, ``No, I have to stay up here.'' You know, I tried to communicate with him, but now I'm going to invite him to come up here and say hello to me.

But thank you all, and may God bless America. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 2:07 p.m. at the Ramada Renaissance Hotel.