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Office of the Vice President

For Immediate Release January 22, 1999
                     TO IMPROVE CHILDREN'S HEALTH
                    ON THE PATIENTS' BILL OF RIGHTS

Today, addressing Families USA annual conference, Vice President Gore unveiled new proposals to children who are eligible but not enrolled in Federal/state health insurance programs; new efforts to reach to low-income seniors who are eligible for financial assistance when enrolling in the Medicare program; highlighted the Administration's new efforts to improve and strengthen Medicare and home and community-based care. The Vice President also called on these over 600 health care activists to renew their efforts to urge Congress to pass a strong enforceable patients' bill of rights.

The Vice President unveiled:

New investments in children's health insurance outreach. The Vice President unveiled the Administration's budget proposal to reach out to enroll uninsured children in Medicaid and the new Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Although they have access to these critical programs, millions of uninsured children remain unenrolled -- because their families don't know about the options, cannot easily get information, or struggle with the application process. To address this problem, the Administration's proposal would provide additional funding for state outreach activities. These new funds will enable States to simplify enrollment systems, launch ad campaigns, educate community volunteers, outstation eligibility workers, and conduct outreach campaigns to identify and enroll uninsured children in both Medicaid and CHIP. This initiative costs $1 billion over 5 years.

Unveiled efforts to increase access to premium assistance for low-income seniors. A study by Families USA reports that over 3 million low-income Medicare beneficiaries are not enrolled in the Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB) and related programs that pay for Medicare premiums and (for some) copayments and deductibles. To reach out to this population, the Vice President announced that beginning in March, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will implement several State level demonstration programs to identify and enroll low income seniors in Medicare premium assistance programs when they apply for Social Security benefits. The Vice President asked SSA to report back to him this fall on lessons learned from these state programs and ways to more effectively reach out to these beneficiaries. In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services will be holding a conference in March that will include developing a best practices outreach guide to be released in early fall.

Urged activists to raise awareness about the need to pass a strong enforceable patients' bill of rights. The Vice President praised these health care activists for their efforts to pass state patient protection laws and underscored that all patients in all health plans would not be assured the patient protections without Federal legislation. He called on them to redouble their efforts to urge Congress to pass a strong enforceable patients' bill of rights this year.

Highlighted new efforts to improve access to home and community based care. The Vice President also highlighted a new proposal that he unveiled in Florida yesterday to promote more flexibility in the Medicaid program to improve home and community-based care. Historically, Medicaid policy and practice has inadvertently discriminated against people with long-term care needs who want to live in their communities by only allowing states to expand Medicaid eligibility to residents in nursing homes. To help reduce this "institutional bias" this new proposal would enable states to expand their programs to cover community-based care as well as nursing home residents with income up to 300 percent of the Social Security Income (SSI) limits.

Highlighted new efforts to link assisted living facilities to health care services to assure older Americans the care they need. To assure that older Americans get the services and health care in assisted living facilities, these new competitive grants are only available to those facilities that get a Medicaid waiver to provide home and community-based services or personal care services for Medicaid-eligible residents. This new innovative partnerships will help assure that residents get the health care and services they need to remain in these communities where they can receive a higher level of care and much greater degree independence.

Underscored the Clinton/Gore Administration's commitment to preserving and strengthening Medicare. The Vice President also highlighted the Administration's commitment to preserving and strengthening the Medicare program. As the President announced in his State of the Union address earlier this week, the Administration is proposing to dedicate one-fifth of the surplus to saving Medicare, extending the Trust Fund to at least 2020. The Administration also urged the Congress to work to achieve broader bipartisan reforms to improve the Medicare program -- which would include a long overdue prescription drug benefit.