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                              THE WHITE HOUSE
                       Office of the Vice President
For Immediate Release:                                   October 1, 1999                            
                                HEALTH CARE

     Washington, DC -- Today, Vice President Al Gore joined nurses and

firefighters to highlight a number of critical health issues including the need for all children to have access to affordable health insurance, a strong enforceable Patients' Bill of Rights, and strengthening Medicare including long overdue prescription drug benefits. The Vice President also urged the Republicans not to reverse course on health care by undermining critical services, such as immunizations, mental health and nursing home protections in the FY2000 budget.

"Nurses and firefighters are on the frontlines of our health care system -- helping uninsured children who end up in hospitals because their health care needs are unaddressed," said Vice President Al Gore. "We must bring change that works to improve our health care system for working families -- change that assures all children have health insurance and a strong Patients' Bill of Rights is passed into law."

Today, Vice President Al Gore:

Highlighted the Importance of Assuring All Children Have Access to Affordable Health Care Coverage. More than eleven million children do not have access to affordable health care coverage. These children are less likely to be treated for routine illnesses, such as an ear infection, and thus more likely to end up in the hospital. All children should have access to affordable health insurance by 2005 and we must give states incentives to aggressively sign kids up.

Called on Congress to Pass a Strong Enforceable Patients' Bill of Rights This Year. Al Gore urged the Congress to pass a strong enforceable Patients' Bill of Rights that assures patients have critical health care protections such as access to specialists, access to emergency room services when and where the need arises, and adequate enforcement. Praising the state of California and Governor Gray Davis for passing strong patients' rights legislation this week, the Vice President urged Congress to follow this lead by passing the Norwood-Dingell Patients' Bill of Rights -- legislation that already has a bipartisan majority in the House.

Urged Republicans Not to Reverse Progress for Health Care for Working Families. While calling for important progress in health care, Vice President Al Gore also urged the Congress not to reverse course by shortchanging health care in the budget. The Labor-HHS Appropriations bill is moving health care in the wrong direction for working families in a number of critical areas. For example, the House bill:

Threatens Childhood Immunization Rates. The Republican bill provides almost $85 million below the Administration's request of $526 million for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Childhood Immunization program. These cuts would result in approximately 170,000 children not receiving the full complement of recommended childhood vaccines, which are not only critical to a healthy childhood, but are essential to protect the public health.

Cuts Investment for Mental Health Services. The House bill funds Mental Health services at $69 million below the Administration's request of $589 million. This undermines States' capacity to respond to the continuing needs of those with serious mental illnesses, including decreased services to approximately 100,000 mentally ill homeless.

Cuts Funding for Substance Abuse Services. The House bill cuts Substance Abuse programs by $34 million below the FY 1999 level, a reduction of $120 million from the Administration's request of $1.84 billion. At this funding level, essential substance abuse treatments will be denied to an additional 31,000 individuals.

Fails to Provide Health Care Access for the Nation's Working Poor. The House bill does not include the requested $25 million for the Administration's five-year effort to increase the capacity and effectiveness of the health care safety-net. The nation's 43 million uninsured are dependent on this critical network of health care providers, which is currently struggling to adapt to America's ever changing health care system.

Hampers Efforts to Address Racial Health Disparities. The Republican bill reduces by $25 million the President's request of $35 million for race and health demonstration projects. These funds are essential to the Administration's effort to address the unacceptable health care disparities that currently exist for African-Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities.

Undermines Anti-Fraud Efforts and Nursing Home Protections. The bill provides $70 million less than the President's request of $630 million for the Medicare Integrity Program that have helped the Administration be highly successful in identifying and eliminating Medicare fraud, saving taxpayers billions of dollars. It also compromises our ability to ensure the quality of care delivered to elderly residents of nursing homes cutting the President's request of $204 million for surveys of nursing homes and other facilities by 48 percent. Without consistent and continued oversight, it will be impossible to assure that our nation's elderly are receiving the high quality care they need and deserve.

Would stop the Department of Labor from implementing a potentially lifesaving process for expedited appeals of benefit denial decisions. By prohibiting the Labor Department from issuing regulations that would assure a timely internal appeals process for all employer based health plans, this bill would block the extension of important and long overdue patient protections to millions of Americans.