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                     Office of the Press Secretary
                         (Hauppauge, New York)
For Immediate Release                                     August 1, 1998
                             TO THE NATION     

                        Amagansett Fire Station       
                    Amagansett, Long Island, New York

10:06 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Today, Hillary and I are at the fire station in Amagansett, Long Island, New York, one of many beautiful communities on Long Island, where we're joined today by doctors, nurses, breast cancer patients, and public health advocates, to talk about something that concerns all Americans -- making a patients' bill of rights the law of the land.

I'm also very proud to be joined by Congressman Michael Forbes and his family. Congressman Forbes is a Republican who is co-sponsoring bipartisan legislation to achieve a genuine patients' bill of rights.

We all know that our health care system is rapidly changing. Since 1990, the number of Americans in managed care has nearly doubled. Today most Americans, 160 million of us, are in managed care plans. I think that, on balance, managed care has been good for America because it's made health care more affordable and more accessible for more Americans. But sometimes cost-cutting can lead to lower standards. That's when the bottom line becomes more important than patients' lives. And when families have nowhere to turn when their loved ones are harmed by health care plans' bad decisions, when there's a denial of specialist care or emergency care when they're plainly needed and recommended by physicians -- when those kinds of things happen, we know we have to take action.

Whether in managed care or traditional care, every single American deserves quality care. I'm doing everything I can as President to help to meet that challenge. For nine months, I have worked in good faith with lawmakers of both parties to pass a strong, enforceable, bipartisan patients' bill of rights -- a bill that covers individual and group plans; a bill that guarantees access to specialists and emergency room care; a bill that guarantees doctors are not receiving secret financial incentives to limit care; a bill that guarantees a remedy to families who have suffered harm because of bad decisions by their health plans. And for nine months the American people have waited.

Finally, the Republican leadership has proposed a partisan bill that does not provide these guarantees. Now they've left town without taking action, leaving millions of Americans without the health care protections they need. Any bill that doesn't guarantee these protections is a patient's bill of rights in name only.

Today, the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the National Breast Cancer Coalition, the American College of Emergency Room Physicians, the American Small Business Alliance, and the National Partnership for Women and Families have all come forward to say the plan of the Republican leadership is an empty promise; it simply will not protect the American public or ensure the quality health care they deserve. Now Congress should rise to its responsibilities and guarantee a patients' bill of rights, and they should reject proposals that are more loophole than law.

Until Congress acts, I will continue to do everything I can to ensure that more Americans are protected by a patients' bill of rights. In February, I signed an executive memorandum that extends those protections to 85 million Americans in federal health plans. Last month, the Department of Veterans Affairs put in place a new health care appeals procedure for 3 million veterans.

Today we're building on our efforts. I'm pleased to announce that the Defense Department is issuing a directive to make the protections of the patients' bill of rights real for more than 8 million servicemen and women, their families, and Defense Department employees. These men and women stand ready every day to keep our nation safe. They should not have to worry about the health care they or their families receive.

This action brings us one step closer to a patients' bill of rights for all Americans, but Congress must act. And so once again, I ask Congress to do its part. There are just a few weeks left in this legislative session -- only a few weeks left to improve health care and strengthen our families. Let's put progress ahead of partisanship. I ask all members of Congress to join Congressman Forbes, me, and the other Democrats and Republicans who want a real patients' bill of rights.

Thanks for listening.

END 10:11 P.M. EDT