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Office of the Vice President

For Immediate Release May 3, 1999

Washington DC -- Vice President Gore unveiled today a new report showing that women have the greatest stake in preserving and improving Medicare.

"This report makes it clearer than ever that to honor and value our mothers, sisters, wives and friends, we must preserve and strengthen Medicare," said Vice President Al Gore at a round table with the Older Women's League.

The report, entitled "The Face of Medicare is a Woman You Know," was conducted by the Older Women's League (OWL), an organization focusing on issues of interest to midlife and older women. The study also underscores Owl's strong support for a number of Administration proposals to improve and modernize Medicare, including covering prescription drugs, dedicating a portion of budget surplus to Medicare, and opposing efforts to increase the eligibility age.

This new report, released as part of the Older Women's League's annual Mother's Day event, found that:

     More women than men depend on Medicare.  Women comprise nearly
     three-fifths of all Medicare beneficiaries and, by age 85, women
     outnumber men in the Medicare program by a two to one ratio.
     Twenty million older women depend on Medicare and another two
     million women with disabilities are covered by the program.

     Older women are at greater risk for poverty than men and have
     higher than average health care costs.  Women over the age of 65
     are more than twice as likely as older men in this age group to be
     poor.  The older a woman is the more likely she is to be poor:
     among those on Medicare age 85 and older, more than half of women,
     compared to one in four men, had incomes of less than $10,000 in
     1996.  A previous survey found that low-income women are less
     likely to use preventive services -- 20 percent less likely than
     women to have mammograms than those with higher incomes.

     Women live longer and have more chronic illnesses.  Women rely on
     Medicare for longer because they live longer -- an average of 79
     years compared to 73 years for men.  Nine in ten women age 65 and
     over report one or more chronic conditions and almost three out of
     four have two or more chronic conditions.  These chronic conditions
     are sources of significant and increasing disability as well as
     mortality.  Older women also are more likely to live alone --
     giving them less access to support.  More than one in three older
     women (35 percent) live alone -- compared to 14 percent of men.

     Medicare has critical gaps that leave women vulnerable to high
     health care costs.  The report highlights some of the important
     gaps in Medicare that cause women to pay high out-of-pocket health
     care costs.  For example, Medicare does not cover prescription
     drugs.  As almost eight in ten women on Medicare use prescription
     drugs regularly, most pay for these medications out of pocket.
     Because women have greater health care needs and lower incomes,
     they spend a larger portion of their income on health care: women
     on average spend $2613 on health care -- or 22 percent of their
     income, nearly one-third higher than men.

     This report underscores need for important Medicare reforms

advocated by the Clinton-Gore Administration. The report emphasizes that because women are disproportionately impacted by the Medicare program, older women have more to lose or gain from efforts to reform the program. In releasing this report, the Older Women's League underscored that this report validates their strong support for a number of Clinton-Gore Administration Medicare proposals. Specifically, OWL supported:

     Investing a portion of the budget surplus to strengthening
     Medicare.  This report underscores that given the overwhelming
     challenges facing Medicare (as the number of people age 65 years or
     older will double by 2030), applying a portion of the budget
     surplus would make it possible to extend Medicare into the 21st
     century without reducing the many critical protections that are in
     place today.  OWL supports proposals like the Administration's
     policy to invest 15 percent of the budget surplus to Medicare program.

     Opposing raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, which
     would have a particularly harmful impact on women.   This report
     highlights the dangers of raising the Medicare eligibility age,
     predicting that such a change would leave large numbers of women
     uninsured.  In 1996, three out of five uninsured Americans between
     the ages of 62 and 65 were women and the proportion of uninsured
     left by this policy change would disproportionately impact women as

     Enabling vulnerable Americans 62 to 65 to buy into Medicare, such
     as the Administration's Medicare buy-in policy.  The report also
     supports proposals to allow Americans ages 62 to 65 to buy into the
     Medicare program to give these vulnerable Americans -- most of who
     are women -- access to much needed health care.

     Including prescription drugs in the Medicare benefits' package.  As
     women have higher out-of-pocket health care costs and rely more on
     Medicare, efforts to address some of Medicare's current shortcoming
     has a disproportionate impact on them. This report underscores the
     need for Medicare to pay for prescription drugs and calls for
     coverage of prescription drugs for all those on Medicare.