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                     Office of the Press Secretary
                          (New York, New York)
For Immediate Release                                    October 7, 1999


                              Sheraton Towers
                             New York, New York

5:35 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: This afternoon the House of Representatives took an important and encouraging step in the effort to give the American people a real patients' bill of rights. After rejecting watered-down legislation by substantial votes, the House voted by a large margin to approve a strong bipartisan patients' bill of rights, sponsored by Congressmen Norwood and Dingell.

The passage of this bill represents a major victory for every family and every health plan. It says you have the right to the nearest emergency room care and the right to see a specialist. It says you have the right to know you can't be forced to switch doctors in the middle of a cancer treatment or a period of pregnancy. And it says you have the right to hold your health care plan accountable if it causes you or a loved one grave harm.

It shows that America is no longer willing to allow unfeeling practices of some health plans to add to the pain of injury or disease. It proves that America is committed to putting patients first.

But let me be clear: We still have a lot of work to do before this bill becomes the law of the land. When the House and the Senate negotiators meet, we must be sure the bill is paid for; and when they meet in conference, the Republican leaders must resist the urge to weaken the patient protections guaranteed in the Norwood-Dingell bill, and they must not undo behind closed doors what has been done in the public. They must also resist the urge to load up the final legislation with poison pill provisions that they know I can't sign.

But today, let's just congratulate the members of both parties in the House of Representatives for making a responsible choice in the face of significant pressure to do otherwise.

I especially thank Congressman Norwood and Congressman Dingell for their leadership and for their dogged determination. We have shown once again that when we work together across party lines, we can use this moment of prosperity to meet the greatest needs of the American people. Thank you very much.

Q Sir, what do you think made the difference? Yesterday you were almost conceding defeat.

THE PRESIDENT: I think a lot of work was done by a lot of people, but I think in the end, most people just went up there and voted for what they thought was right. Now, you know, there's kind of an unusual parliamentary maneuver of which you're all aware in which they've tied another bill to it and sent them both to conference. The other bill is one I don't support; it would cost an awful lot of money and help less than one percent of the uninsured in America, most of whom can afford their own health care policies anyway. And so we have to watch things like that being done in the final legislation. But a big majority of the House did vote for this bill, just as it was written, and I'm very proud of them.

This is the sort of thing America wants us to do. We can work together across party lines; we can get things done. There will still be plenty for the two parties to argue about in good conscience in the coming election. No matter what we do -- we can deal with every challenge before the Congress now, and there will still be things to debate next November.

So I would hope that this is an omen of more good things to come. And I'm certainly prepared to do my part, and I'm very grateful today. I talked to some Republican and Democratic House members before the vote and encouraged them. And I'm very proud of all of them. And I thank them.

Q Could you tell us about your talks with Hoffa?


Q Could you tell us about your talks with Jimmy Hoffa --

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, sure --

Q -- and did you ask him to not stand in the way of an early endorsement of the AFL-CIO for Gore?

THE PRESIDENT: Actually, we didn't talk much about that. We talked about -- this is the first long personal visit we've had, although we've worked on a lot of things. He thanked me for the work that I'd done over the last six and a half years. We talked a little about that.

We talked about -- interestingly enough, we talked about Franklin Roosevelt and Frances Perkins, and the rise of the American labor movement for some good amount of time. Said he was glad I was coming tonight, and that President Roosevelt was the last President to talk to the Teamsters.

And we talked quite a bit about trade, and about his strong feeling that we ought to make sure that the safety provisions of NAFTA are met. And I assured him that we were doing everything we could to do just that, and that we would continue to do so.

He said he was deeply concerned that ever since the recession in Mexico, and then the recession in Asia, countries with whom we had had a balance of trade or a small surplus we now seem to be running large deficits with. He was concerned about the rise of protectionism in Europe. And we talked about that.

And that was -- most of our conversation was about that. We also talked about golf for probably too long. We had a good talk about golf. We didn't talk too much about other politics and I said I looked forward to seeing him tonight.

Thank you.

Q Mr. President, do you have any reason to believe the Senate will allow the right to sue?

THE PRESIDENT: Sure, if they listen to the American people. That's what happened today. I mean, 70 percent of our citizens want it; 70 percent of Republicans want it. And there's a way to do it -- if they just look at their own estimates -- not mine, the Congressional Budget Office -- says it will add, at the most, two dollars a month a policy to have all the protections of the patients' bill of rights. And that's a good investment in our future.

5:43 P.M. EDT