THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN ANNOUNCEMENT ON DIABETES INITIATIVES
Georgetown University Hospital Washington, D.C.
11:27 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. I would like to thank Dr. Wiesel and all the people here at the Georgetown Medical Center for hosting us. I want to thank Mary Delaney and Chief Joyce Dugan and Sandra Puczynski for their speeches and for their example. As you might imagine, over the course of my tenure I have had occasion to come to quite a number of ceremonies like this. I don't believe I have ever heard three people back to back speak so powerfully, so clearly, so eloquently about a matter of great national concern. And I think we should give them all another hand. (Applause.)
I'd like to thank all of the people who are here today, diabetes patients, families, activists and advocates. Especially, I'd like to acknowledge the people on the platform -- Stephen Satalino, the Chair of the American Diabetes Association. Joan Beaubaire, the former head of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, is also here. Her son works for me at the White House, so I get a little extra prodding on this from time to time. (Laughter.)
I'd like to say a special word of thanks to Mary Tyler Moore, who has awakened the conscience of our nation and indeed the entire world about this issue, for her long and tireless and selfless efforts. Thank you, Mary. (Applause.)
I want to thank Dr. Philip Gorden, the head of diabetes research at NIH. He's here with us today. And the NIH will play a major role in the work that we are discussing here.
None of us could write the history of the century that is about to end without a big chapter on the miracles modern medicine and science have wrought in our lives. Polio, mumps, diphtheria -- the diseases that robbed so many families of beloved infants and toddlers for centuries have been virtually eradicated. Premature babies who just a decade ago would not have had a chance at life beyond the intensive care unit are growing into happy and healthy children. Powerful treatments are prolonging the lives and improving the quality of lives of people with HIV and AIDS all across our country, raising new hopes for people living with the disease.
But there are still frontiers to conquer and still too many among us whose lives and futures are dimmed by disease and illness, as we have heard so powerfully today. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in our country, and perhaps equally profoundly affects the lives of millions and millions of people who have it every day.
The historic balanced budget legislation I signed on Tuesday is about more than balancing the books; it also honors our values, increases our chances of keeping the American Dream alive in the 21st century and improves the lives of every American. There are some little-known but very important provisions in this new balanced budget that will take us a tremendous step forward in our fight against diabetes. These investments total more than $2 billion over the next five years. They will strengthen our efforts to find a cure, to help our most vulnerable citizens better manage the disease, to prevent some of its most traumatic, costly and life-threatening complications.
These investments represented the committed efforts of many members of Congress and our administration. But I must recognize, especially two: first, Congressman Elizabeth Furse, whose daughter is here and who has diabetes, led the Bipartisan Congressional Diabetes Caucus in an absolutely tireless fight to include the Medicare investments that are in this bill. And I thank her. She has done magnificently. Thank you. (Applause.)
And I must tell you, I wish very much that the Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, could be with us today. When we have a disagreement, it is normally well-publicized. (Laughter.) And widely understood. (Laughter.) But I wish the American people could see the numerous private conversations that we have had together in quiet rooms about diabetes.
He watched his mother-in-law live with diabetes and became a great champion for people struggling with it, a tireless advocate for greater investments and research, prevention and care, and one of the very first people who ever spoke to me not only about the human dimensions of the disease, but the enormous percentage of our public funds in Medicare and, to a lesser extent, in Medicaid, that could be devoted to other purposes were it not for the crushing burden of diabetes-related problems directly resultant from our failure to invest as we begin to invest today. I know we play a leading role in making these new initiatives a part of the budget, and I appreciate both what he and Elizabeth and others have done.
Now, this new legislation will do three things. It expands Medicare benefits for the more than 3 million senior citizens diagnosed with diabetes. Mary talked about that. We all know that early investments in prevention can save us millions in expensive treatments down the line. If left untreated, diabetes can lead to devastating complications such as blindness, amputations and kidney disease. This new benefit will make testing strips and other methods of monitoring blood glucose levels, as well as instructions on how best to manage the complicated disease, available to all Medicare beneficiaries with diabetes.
It will empower Medicare patients to take better care of themselves at home and to avoid complications that can lead to costly hospital stays and destroy health.
Second, the new legislation will enable Health and Human Services Secretary, Donna Shalala, to boost funding for Type I or juvenile diabetes research by $150 million over the next five years. Nearly one million Americans have Type I diabetes, and as many as half of them are children. Even when the disease is managed carefully, the patients almost always experience further complications. That's why we cannot rest until we find a cure that will free our children from this disease. And this unprecedented grant will help us to do that.
Third, we will provide a five-year, $150-million grant to the Indian Health Service for diabetes prevention, research and treatment in our Native American communities. And I want to say a special word of thanks to Senator Domenici of New Mexico for his special efforts on this project.
As Chief Dugan has made it clear, Native Americans are three times as likely as white Americans to have this disease; far less likely to find adequate treatment for it. Too many Native Americans are suffering from the grimmest complications of diabetes. This grant will bring public health services, schools and nutrition programs together to reach children and families living on reservations, and to provide them with the information and tools to prevent and manage diabetes.
And I might say, I told Chief Dugan before I came up here that my grandmother's grandmother was a Cherokee who would be very proud that there is a woman chief who is doing such a magnificent job. (Applause.) Thank you.
Next month, our scientists at NIH will be hosting a workshop to bring researchers from all across the country to share ideas and discuss the most promising avenues of diabetes research. And we will establish a new and unprecedented public-private partnership to bring our nation's leading health care providers, purchasers, and consumers together to develop uniform guidelines for diabetes care. Through the guidelines, we can ensure that all doctors provide their patients with thorough and vigilant care, such as regular eye and foot exams, to stay as healthy as possible.
Taken together, these initiatives can make life-changing differences for millions of Americans. I was very heartened to hear the American Diabetes Association say that these new investments in diabetes are as important for people with diabetes as the discovery of insulin in 1921. Let us pray that it will be so.
Let me finally say that discussing this in rather clinical terms cannot possibly convey the human impact that Sandra did in talking about her child. On the way over here today, I was remembering that 23 years ago plus now, when I began my career in political life, the first chairman of my campaign was only a year older than me and was already a bank president at the age of 28 or 29, but he died a few years ago from complications from diabetes. When I lived in Arkansas, I used to sing in a church choir with a man who had to quit singing because of complications from diabetes, and I have these vivid memories every Sunday of standing there looking at him sitting in the church with the pain on his face of not being able to do it anymore.
This morning I got a note from a friend of mine I'd like to read to you. "For the last 17 years my son has gone to sleep scared, scared that his blood sugar would drop and his body would be ripped apart with a diabetic seizure. Every day for the last 17 years, my son and his family have worried about the opposite effects of having his blood sugar remain at too high a level and thereby causing the early onset of blindness, heart failure and loss of limb. Until today, there simply wasn't enough money available for scientific research to have a real hope to find a cure. Now there is."
It is easy to say that in the last 50 years we experienced in science the age of physics, the age of space travel and the beginning of genetic research; but that in the next 50 years, the 21st century in science will be an age of biology. The important thing is that for people and their families with diabetes, it can be an age of longer, happier, richer lives.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 11:39 A.M. EDT