View Header


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 26, 1997
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                             The East Room

2:32 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you, Secretary Shalala, Acting Secretary Metzler. Thank you both for the work you've done on this. I thank the commission members for their willingness to serve -- those who are here and a few who could not be here with us today. And I thank all of you here in this audience for your interest in this profoundly important matter.

The Advisory Commission that I announced today will help to chart our way through a time of profound change in health care. Their task will be focused and urgent: to find ways to ensure quality and to ensure that the rights of consumers in health care are protected.

Since I took office, we have been committed to improving our health care system -- to making it more affordable, more accessible, while preserving its high quality. You have heard Secretary Shalala mention some of the things we have done together. We've worked with states to expand Medicaid to more than 2 million Americans who previously had no insurance. We reached across party lines to enact the Kassebaum-Kennedy law that provides that working families will not lose their insurance when they change jobs. We increased the health care tax deduction for 3 million self-employed Americans. And now in our budget plan, we have funds sufficiently targeted to extend coverage to as many as half of our 10 million American children who still don't have medical coverage.

We've worked to constrain costs. Just yesterday I announced a new effort to combat the multi-billion dollar problem of fraud and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid. Our balanced budget proposal also strengthens Medicare through savings and overdue structural reforms.

Of course, we're not alone in this. The private sector has found ways to rein in costs, sometimes dramatically. And in many cases, changes in the health care delivery system have, frankly, also improved its quality. For example, the growing recognition of the value of preventive care, such as mammography screening, is saving and extending lives and the quality of life. This is all very encouraging. Step by step we have been working to expand access to health care and today we take the next step.

In this time of transition, many Americans worry that lower costs mean lower quality and less attention to their rights. On balance, however, managed health care plans -- HMOs, PPOs and others -- give patients good care and greater choice at lower cost. Still, we must make sure that these changes do not keep health professionals from offering the best and the most medically appropriate services to their patients. Managed care managed well can be the best deal for our families. Whether they have traditional health care or managed care, none of our people should ever have inferior care.

I am proud that the Medicare and Medicaid programs have taken the lead in responding to the quality concerns of both patients and health care providers, as Secretary Shalala has just described. But we're learning the defining, measuring and enforcing quality is far from a simple task. There are many complicated issues; they require thoughtful study. And, not surprisingly, there are many areas where broad-based consensus on how best to proceed does not yet exist.

That is why I decided late last year to establish the Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the health care industry. Today, I am happy to introduce the members of that commission to the American people. They are a highly distinguished, broad-based and diverse group. They represent consumers, business, labor, health care providers, insurers, managed care plans, state and local governments, health care quality experts. Their specialties are wide-ranging, including care for children, the elderly, women, people with disabilities, mental illness or AIDS. This commission includes some of the best health care policy minds in our nation, and a lot of people with hands-on experience. Its task will be as challenging as it is critical.

Today, to assure that they get busy right away, I am charging the commission to develop a consumer bill of rights so that health care patients get the information and care they need when they need it. Let's assure that patients and their families first, that the health care professionals who are treating them are free to provide the best medical advice available. Second, that their providers are not subject to inappropriate financial incentives to limit care. Third, that our sickest and most vulnerable patients, frequently the elderly and people with disabilities, are receiving the best medical care for their unique needs. Fourth, that consumers have access to simple and fair procedures for resolving health care coverage disputes with plans.

Fifth, and perhaps most important, that consumers have basic information about their rights and responsibilities, about the plans -- the benefits the plans offer, about how to access the health care they need, and about the quality of their providers and their health care plans.

I'm delighted that the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Labor will take on the task of being the commission's co-chairs. I look forward to reviewing their first report at the end of the year and their final report next March.

The need for this commission is real. It is urgent. It will give us a road map to help us make our way through the time of rapid change we now see in our health care system. There are few people in the nation better suited to the task than the members of this commission. And again, let me say, I want to thank them for their commitment to serve. And to all the rest of you, let me say one of the things -- one of the many things I have learned in the last four years as President -- is that a distinguished commission broadly based with a clear mandate can make a profound positive difference for our country.

In the health care related areas, I ask you to think of only two. Think of the work done by the Gulf War Commission and what we now know that we did not know then they started to meet and work. Think of the remarkable work done by the commission that dealt with those who were exposed to human radiation experiments just a few decades ago here and the work that they have done.

There is a peculiar way in which the citizens of the United States when brought together around a clear mandate interfacing with their government and with the private sector can do more than either the government or the private sector could do alone.

And so again, let me say, I'm very hopeful about this commission. I look forward to their progress on the consumer's bill of rights. I look forward to all the work that they do. And I ask you to join me in thanking them for their willingness to serve. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 2:40 P.M. EST