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                     Office of the Press Secretary
                          (Las Vegas, Nevada)
For Immediate Release                                    October 2, 1999

                             TO THE NATION

                              Paris Hotel
                           Las Vegas, Nevada

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Although my voice has been a little hoarse, I want to speak with you this morning about your voice, about how you can make the difference this week to help secure the vital health care protections you've long deserved.

Like many of you, I've been appalled by the tragic stories of men and women fighting for their lives, and at the same time forced to fight insurance companies focused only on the bottom line. I've met the husbands and wives of those who have died when insurance companies overruled a doctor's urgent warnings. I met a former HMO employee who broke down in tears when describing how callous delays wound up costing a 12-year-old cancer patient his leg. If we work together, we've got the power to put patients first once again.

Just this week, Governor Gray Davis signed into law an ambitious health care reform package, giving 20 million residents of California a strong and enforceable patients' bill of rights. Now, it's time to do the same for every American, because it doesn't matter whether you're from California or Connecticut or anywhere in between; families all across our nation need greater patient protections at this time of great change in medical care.

My administration has worked hard to do its part. Through executive action, we've granted all of the patient protections we can give under law to more than 85 million Americans who get their health care through federal plans.

Today, I'm pleased to announce that this month, we'll propose rules to extend patient protections to each and every child covered under the Children's Health Insurance Program. These children are from some of our hardest-pressed working families. That's why I feel so strongly about giving them not only access to health care, but also the guarantee of quality care.

Yet, some in Congress still seem intent on moving in the opposite direction. Republican leaders recently have attached language to a budget bill to deprive 120 million employees of the right to a timely internal appeal of any coverage decision that denies them care they were promised. Blocking this basic right is simply unacceptable. It puts special interests first and patients last.

But this week, the House of Representatives has a chance to effectively erase this action as they sit down to vote at long last on whether to give all Americans in health plans all the protections of the patients' bill of rights. This vote is critical. For all of the steps this administration and many states have taken to extend patient rights, we don't have the authority to protect every family unless Congress acts.

So I encourage you to urge your representatives to vote for the comprehensive bipartisan patients' bill of rights, sponsored by Congressman Charlie Norwood and John Dingell. This legislation will give every American the right to emergency room care and the right to see a specialist; the right to know you can't be forced to switch doctors in the middle of a cancer treatment or pregnancy; the right to hold your health care plan accountable if it causes you or a loved one great harm.

The bill has already been endorsed by more than 300 health care and consumer groups all across America. I'm convinced the votes are there to pass this patients' bill of rights this week. But we need your help to make it clear to the Republican leaders that we can't tolerate any attempt to kill this bill with legislative poison pills.

Together, let's tell them to give this legislation the straight up or down vote it deserves. Let's not allow anything to jeopardize the remarkable bipartisan consensus we have worked so hard to build. If you make your voice heard and Republican leaders permit every member to vote on the strong bipartisan bill that stands today, this week can bring the most important health protections in years. Partisan posturing and delay will only make matters worse. To me, it's the same choice patients face every day. Active, preventive medicine now or expensive, last-minute interventions later. The American people are counting on the Congress, and especially the Republican leaders, to make the responsible choice.

Thanks for listening.