Public Papers

Remarks at the Health Care Equity Action League Briefing


Please be seated, and thank you very much for coming. And Dirk, thank you, sir, and Pam, the cochairs of HEAL. I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak to you briefly here. And then our experts come on and you'll learn -- I wouldn't say more than you want to know about this, but you'll be hearing from our very best in a few minutes, people that have shaped our approach to health care.

We are grateful for your support. I'll tell you, the strong support of this organization for our health care reform plan is absolutely essential to getting something done for the people in this country. I can't overemphasize the importance of your contacts on the Hill today, of your organizing of the local coalitions. Both of these efforts are going to be determining factors in steering health care reform in the right direction.

We're at a crossroads, literally, at a crossroads on the issue of health care reform. The real debate concerns the direction that health care reform is going to take. I don't think there's any argument in the country that health care reform is not needed. Nobody's taking that tack. The question is, will we preserve our public-private health care system through comprehensive reforms or are we going to substitute a plan that is Government-dictated, Government-mandated, Government-controlled? That's the bottom line. We have to spell out as clearly for the American public as we possibly can: The decision is as simple and as pivotal as that.

We have to make it clear to Americans that other proposals like the national health care, expanded Medicare, Americare, and ``play or pay'' are fundamentally Government-controlled. Some are a little more obvious about it than others, but ultimately each ends up controlled by a Government bureaucracy.

Let me also assure you that I share your specific concerns. Individual entrepreneurs need help in order to compete with the conglomerates; I understand that. You need a tax deduction for 100 percent of health insurance premiums, and you need market clout. As small business owners you also need rescuing from cherry picking by these insurers, and you need help in shopping smart, and you need a way to avoid costly frivolous coverage. Our plan provides comprehensive reform, and that's going to benefit, we compute, more than 95 million Americans.

We have two bills on the Hill already. These are nonpolitical; that is, the liberals agree with us in principle; that makes them nonpolitical. [Laughter] That being the case, I say Congress ought to act according to principle and pass this legislation for the good of the country. Where we agree, we must act. With your help up on the Hill, Congress will pass the bills immediately.

Under our plan, health insurers would have to cover all employers requesting coverage, and that coverage would be guaranteed. It would be renewable, and it would have no restrictions for preexisting medical conditions. It would also be portable, allowing workers to change jobs without fear of not being picked up by their new employer's plan. We would establish networks that would help small businesses purchase insurance and manage their premium costs. Our coordinated care provisions would reverse the upward spiral of health care costs, too.

Our plan also addresses something that we must do something about, and I'm talking about the malpractice costs, costs from excessive insurance paperwork, and also administrative costs. We address the special needs of urban and rural areas by providing for clinics and disease prevention activities.

In addition, we think consumers need better information in order to make better decisions. So we propose information booklets that will allow consumers to compare costs and then compare the quality of care provided by hospitals and other health care plans. These are things that I think that we all can whole-heartedly endorse and fully intend to implement.

But no discussion of health care reform is complete without emphasizing the necessity for personal responsibility for health promotion and then again for disease prevention. Tomorrow, Secretary Lou Sullivan, along with Prevention magazine, will announce the results of a survey on the health-related behavior of Americans. The prevention index tracks our national progress in avoiding special specific health-related risk behavior. We need your help in spreading the word that avoiding 10 common risk factors could prevent between 40 and 70 percent of all premature deaths, one-third of all cases of acute disability, and two-thirds of all cases of chronic disability. Individual action, that's what is needed around the Nation, at the level of personal health behavior.

At the same time, up here, right back to Washington, congressional action is needed to ensure that world-class health care continues to be directed by consumer choice and by free-market factors.

There's a crying need to change things. But I feel compelled to uphold the quality of American health care. We must not, in our desire to see change, diminish the quality of American health care. Our plan, I think, upholds the quality. Very candidly, I think the major two competing plans would tend to diminish the quality of American health care. We've seen it happen in some of these nationalized programs abroad, and I think the same thing would happen here. So we must not go for a program that is going to diminish the quality of American medical care.

So again, Dirk and Pam, thank you. We are very grateful for your leadership and helping to make all this happen. And to each and every one of you, my most sincere thanks. I really believe we can get something done, and I say that, recognizing that this is a weird year. [Laughter] This is what they call one of the weird ones out there. But when you have a commonsense idea, when you have something that is backed by the sound and sensible people like yourselves, we've got to find a way to make it happen. So I pledge you my full support. My driving interest behind this really can be brought to bear in the Congress in ways that our pros here in the front row think necessary. So I am with you and very, very grateful to you.

Now, on for your real session where you're going to learn a lot more about it. Thank you all very much for coming.

Note: The President spoke at 2:09 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to Dirk Vander Dongen, chairman, and Pam Bailey, executive director, Health Care Equity Action League.