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                     Office of the Press Secretary
                         (Camp David, Maryland)
For Immediate Release                                      July 12, 2000


Thirty-five years ago this month, President Johnson enacted the Medicare program into law. The program has proven to be a remarkable success, providing basic health care services to tens of millions of older Americans and people with disabilities. Since its enactment, there has been a decrease of over 60 percent in elderly poverty and Americans over 65 now have the highest life expectancy of seniors anywhere in the world.

I am particularly proud of my Administration's stewardship of the Medicare program. When I came into office, Medicare was projected to become insolvent in 1999. Our success in keeping overall and health care inflation low, combating fraud, waste, and abuse, and making the Medicare program more competitive and efficient has resulted in the strongest Medicare Trust Fund solvency in a quarter century. We have extended the life of the Trust Fund to 2025 and Medicare premiums are nearly 20 percent lower today than projected in 1993. We have also modernized the program to cover preventive services and coverage for clinical trials.

We need to build on our successful management of the Medicare program and prepare it for the inevitable health and demographic challenges it faces in the 21st century. No one would create a Medicare program today without a prescription drug benefit. With the announcement of the completion of the human genome and the revolutionary impact it will have on the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of most, if not all, human disease, the importance of pharmaceuticals as a clinical tool will only increase.

That is why I have proposed a comprehensive plan that would take the Medicare Trust Fund off-budget extend the life of the Trust Fund to at least 2030, make the program more efficient, provide for increased health care provider payments, and modernize it to include a long overdue Medicare prescription-drug benefit option. This benefit would be available and affordable to all beneficiaries, no matter where they live or how sick they are.

I am pleased that there is growing momentum on Capitol Hill to provide a real Medicare prescription drug benefit, not a flawed insurance model. Because we have managed the program so efficiently, due to the leadership of the longest serving Secretary of Health and Human Services in history - Donna Shalala - we can use our success in reducing the cost of the program and reinvest the savings to help finance a meaningful Medicare prescription drug benefit. I urge the Congress to work together in a bipartisan fashion to meet the challenges this program faces, and to ensure that it continues to provide the critically important insurance coverage for the 39 million seniors and people with disabilities the program serves.