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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 16, 1994
                       REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                       IN VIDEO CONFERENCE CALL
                           WITH PICTURE TEL

The Roosevelt Room

2:47 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Roger.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY ALTMAN: Hello, Mr. President. Good afternoon.

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY ALTMAN: Thank you for joining us. Mr. President, I'm here with Norman Gott, the Chairman and Chief Executive of Picture Tel, and with a group of Picture Tel employees here in Danvers, just outside Boston.

This company is an example of what's right with American business in two ways: One is, video conferencing is a leading-edge technology, as you can see right there, with immense market potential, and this company is the world leader. Many think that video conferencing will be as ubiquitous as fax machines are even by the year 2000, and, in fact, I've seen today how so many of the PCs that we all use in our daily lives will be equipped with video conference technology, really in the next two or three years.

In addition, Mr. President, the company is a classic entrepreneurial success. This company was founded in a garage in 1984. Now it has nearly 1,000 employees, nearly $200 million in sales. Its sales have grown almost 100 percent a year over the past five years, and its employees -- a number of its employees has doubled over the past two and a half years. And about half its business is international.

The second impressive thing about this company is that it provides health care coverage on a generous basis to all of its employees. The company pays 83 percent of the costs. The employees pay the balance, right along the lines of your health security act. The company provides a full range of benefits and a choice of plans, and it has done a good job managing its costs, which today account for about eight percent of its payroll.

And Mr. Gott here, who will speak in just a second, knows that a healthy and a motivated work force is a key to business success, and that the economic payoff from that is well worth the cost of providing health care coverage to his employees. And it's evident to me, having been here over the last couple of hours, that there is a very dedicated work force here at Picture Tel, and that that's the main reason for its remarkable success.

Mr. Norman Gott.

MR. GOTT: Thank you, Roger.

Good afternoon, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, Norman.

MR. GOTT: We welcome you up here on, hopefully, technology that will help to carry us into the 21st century.

THE PRESIDENT: It's carrying me through the afternoon. I'm amazed by this. (Laughter.) I'm trying to figure out how to get it.

MR. GOTT: I knew you'd break the ice with something. (Laughter.)

This is an opportunity for us, and we appreciate this opportunity today to kind of get our two bits in on this health care measure. I think I can speak for most of the people at Picture Tel -- we are extremely interested in universal coverage. We have the advantage, I think, of an excellent program here. But there's a lot of situations in which, if we didn't have that coverage, it would be a real disaster. And so we're really, I think, from a social responsibility standpoint, very interested in getting everybody into some kind of an insurance plan.

I think the second piece that I'd just like to take two seconds and talk to you about is that driving it through the employer as the mechanism for funding and so forth, as it already is, I think is a terrific idea. From our standpoint, it fits directly into what we're doing. It would be a very small change, and it works very well. I obviously don't speak for everybody, but from our standpoint, we're very much in favor of that piece of the legislation.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I appreciate your support. You know, it is clear to me, having studied this problem for years and talked to literally hundreds of employers, that we're never going to get control of costs and have a fully efficient and effective system that is also compassionate and humane until we have guaranteed health insurance for everybody. We've got to cover everybody. And the simplest and most direct way is to do it through the workplace.

Now, as you know, all the bitter opposition we're getting here in Washington is coming from people who say it will cost jobs and it will hurt small business. But they overlook the fact that many small businesses provide health insurance today at very high rates because they don't have any market power. And under our plan, we'd have discounts for small businesses, and we'd give them market power. We would let them go into buyers co-ops so they would be able to have the same sort of muscle that larger companies do.

And over the long run, unless we do this, we're neither going to be a humane country, from a health care point of view, or as productive as we ought to be, and we're going to lose jobs. All these serious studies of the economy, such as the one done by the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office, say that we'll actually create more jobs and we'll help the small business sector over the long run as we put this universal coverage in.

So I can't tell you how much I appreciate this because the organized groups here in Washington are always complaining about this mandate as if it's the end of the world when, in fact, it's just private insurance for everybody. It keeps the government out of it except to require people -- employers and employees -- to be responsible. And I really applaud what you said.

MR. GOTT: It turns out that we have done a little bit of studying in preparation for this discussion here, and one of the interesting things that's come out of it is the experiment that's going on in Hawaii now, which doesn't seem to have any real negative effects on either employment or costs. From our standpoint, obviously, we already pay 8 percent of the payroll for medical costs, so I think we're going to fit right in to any new program that's based on the bill that you have proposed quite easily.

Is there any way that business can help you to push this reform movement and help to create an atmosphere in which we can get a bill that really does give us universal coverage?

THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely, there is. I think the most important thing you can do is to contact as many members of Congress of both parties as possible, describe your business, make it clear that you're a business of the future, and make it clear that the American economy in the future depends upon providing health care for all of our citizens, and that the way to do it is through the workplace.

I think that if the members of Congress could just see over and over and over again all the responsible employers who want to do the right thing and who understand that it's good for business and will create jobs to solve the health care crisis, I think that will do more than anything else to give them the courage to overcome the intense, almost unbelievable pressure from the organized groups who are basically trying to protect the right of business to walk away from their employees and their own responsibility so that the rest of us will pick up the bill when those folks get sick.

I think that if we can just have enough real-life examples like yours that represent the future to the members of Congress, so they can feel a higher confidence level in doing this, I believe we can get this done. And we can get it done this year. I think it's very, very important that we do this this year. This problem's been studied to death. There's no point in just taking more time. We ought to move, and move now.

Again, I would urge you to reach out to members of both parties. Tell them, don't play politics with this. Do what's right for America and do it this year. And tell them that you know it will be good for America's jobs. That, I think, is really critical, because you'll have a lot of credibility. And you might even set up one of these phone calls with congressional leaders. And you would certainly have a big impression on them.

MR. GOTT: We're going to leave that unit in there so that you can talk to a lot of leaders like this and not waste a lot of time.

THE PRESIDENT: You'll save us a lot of travel time.

MR. GOTT: Yes, well, I want you guys to join the 21st century in technology on this information highway. And here's your best example.

THE PRESIDENT: You are. This is -- the Vice President's always telling me about virtual reality. I virtually feel like I'm there in the room with you today.

MR. GOTT: Well, we appreciate very much you taking the time to talk to us today about this because we think it's important, and I know you do, too. We'll do our part.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you for your support for health care. Thank you for helping to take the American economy into the 21st century. I want to again urge all of you, just do what you can to personally contact the members of Congress -- and again without regard to party. Say this is an American problem. We need an American solution. We need to do it in 1994, not later.

Thank you very much.

MR. GOTT: Terrific.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY ALTMAN: Mr. President, I'm bringing back 535 video conferencing-equipped PCs for every member of Congress so Norman can plug into all of them just like this. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Good for you. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Thanks. (Applause.)

That is amazing. (Laughter).

END2:36 p.m. edt