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|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
|Monday, June 23, 2003
||Contact: HHS Press Office
HHS SECRETARY TOMMY G. THOMPSON, AMERICA'S
DOCTORS TEAM UP FOR BETTER BENEFITS, MORE CHOICES IN MEDICARE
HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson is sending the nation's four
top doctors on a cross-country "Better Benefits Tour" this
week to promote the need for strengthening Medicare with modern
medicine delivered in a modern way.
Secretary Thompson said that, as America's leading health advocates,
he and the four doctors know full well the need for better benefits
and more choices in Medicare, which is what President Bush envisions
for the program. Thus, the Secretary is taking the rare step
of sending Surgeon General Richard Carmona, Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention Director Julie Gerberding, Food and Drug
Administration Commissioner Mark McClellan, and National Institutes
of Health Director Elias Zerhouni out together to raise awareness
about the important work taking place to improve Medicare.
"As America's leading health advocates, we know how important
it is to strengthen Medicare so that seniors have access to modern
medicine," Secretary Thompson said. "The four doctors
speak with great authority about the need to modernize Medicare
with coverage for prescription drugs, disease prevention and
disease management as well as protection from high out-of-pocket
costs. And they also know the importance of delivering this modern
medicine in a modern way, by giving seniors more choices in benefits
packages that best fit their needs."
Secretary Thompson kicked off the tour in Washington on Monday
with the four doctors before sending them to stops in Miami,
Chicago, Denver and San Diego over three days. The tour comes
as both the Senate and House work to pass legislation this week
to improve Medicare.
"The President is putting forth an innovative and balanced
vision for giving seniors better benefits and more choices, and
we want to continue encouraging Congress to pass bipartisan legislation
bringing Medicare into the 21st century," Secretary Thompson
said. "We need to finally get the job done and strengthen
The President proposed $400 billion to modernize and improve
Medicare. The framework he set forth would give all Medicare
beneficiaries access to:
- Prescription drug coverage that enables seniors to get the
medicines they need, without the government dictating their
- Choice of an individual health care plan that best fits their
needs-just like Members of Congress and other federal employees enjoy today.
- Choice of the doctor, hospital, or place they want for the
and care they need.
- Full coverage for disease prevention such as screenings for
diabetes and osteoporosis.
- Protection from high out-of-pocket costs that threaten to
seniors of their savings.
The President also wants to make sure that low-income seniors
receive additional financial assistance so they will not have
to pay more to receive better benefits than they currently do
under Medicare. The fundamentals of the President's framework
are included, thus far, in legislation before the House and Senate.
Dr. Zerhouni said the quality of health care for seniors is
a primary concern for each of the HHS institutions involved in
the tour, so it is important for America's doctors to be involved
in Medicare even though they have no direct oversight of the
"Strengthening Medicare is a national priority, and as
the nation's doctors we believe it is important to raise awareness
about the need for the benefits of modern medicine in Medicare," Dr.
Elias Zerhouni said. "As a doctor, and as director of America's
leading research institution, it is imperative to me that we
make sure seniors in Medicare have access to modern medicine
at an affordable cost."
Dr. Gerberding said disease prevention is a major priority for
the CDC, thus her agency is appreciative of the President's insistence
on providing better opportunities for preventive care in Medicare.
"As a physician dedicated to the prevention of disease,
strengthening Medicare with better benefits for preventive care and disease
management is overdue," Dr. Gerberding said. "Paying a relatively
small cost for the prevention of disease makes much more sense than paying
for the high costs of treating disease and its complications later. That's
why these better benefits make sense for Medicare beneficiaries, for taxpayers,
and for the health care system."
The most fundamental better benefit being sought for Medicare
is prescription drug coverage for beneficiaries, so they have
affordable access to modern medicines.
"This is an era in which drugs are becoming increasingly
specialized and can more accurately and effectively target diseases
-- improving the quality of care and quality of life for seniors," Dr.
McClellan said. " The FDA works hard to get safe, effective
drugs to the marketplace for the benefit of Americans. We want
to make sure that seniors can afford to reap the benefits of
HHS believes an important component of Medicare must be protection
from the high costs of health care for seniors, so they are not
robbed of their savings by a lengthy hospital stay or particularly
expensive medicines. Thus, the President's framework provides
opportunities to protect seniors from such costs.
"Right now under Medicare, a lengthy hospital stay or the
need to stay on expensive medication can devastate seniors financially,
potentially wiping out a lifetime of hard-earned savings," Dr.
Carmona said. "The President wants to provide protection
from high costs to seniors in Medicare. As a doctor who has worked
in hospitals, I know this is an essential benefit. There's nothing
more sad and discouraging than seeing a senior citizen financially
ruined if they need expensive but life-saving treatments and
The President's framework seeks to also improve the way modern
medicine is delivered to seniors. He wants to structurally modernize
Medicare as well so that seniors have more choices in health
benefits that best meets their needs. These would be the same
array of choices in doctors, hospitals and benefits that America's
four doctors have as well as all federal employees
and members of Congress.
Secretary Thompson and the Surgeon General emphasized that greater
choice is a fundamental priority for seniors in their health
care. This would include, for example, allowing seniors to keep
their popular PPO plan when they turn 65, rather than being forced
into traditional Medicare.
The framework seeks to combine the best practices of the government-run
Medicare program with successful components of the competitive
free market system.
"By keeping the existing government system, building on
its strengths and incorporating the best ideas of the marketplace,
we can create a modern and efficient Medicare program for the
21st century," Secretary Thompson said. " A program
that gives seniors more choices in benefits that best meet their
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