Good morning. This week in Washington, we have turned our attention to the goal of better health care for all Americans. I have asked Congress to send me a strong Patients' Bill of Rights, one that provides immediate access to specialists and an immediate appeal to a panel of doctors when an HMO denies care. I hope to sign a bill that gets people help when they need it, not a bill adding hundreds of dollars to the high premiums they already pay.
I am also asking Congress to join me in modernizing and strengthening Medicare. All of us, young and old, have a stake in the outcome of this discussion. From its beginning 36 years ago, Medicare has represented a basic binding commitment to our seniors. That commitment will always stand. And as medicine advances and the needs of our seniors change, Medicare must advance and improve as well.
The most pressing challenge is the lack of coverage for prescription drugs. To begin solving this problem, I am proposing a new national drug discount program for seniors. This is a straightforward, nonbureaucratic program which can be in place by January. Everyone in Medicare will be eligible for a drug discount card, costing no more than a dollar or 2 per month. Present this card at a participating pharmacy, and you will receive a substantial discount—at least 10 percent. It's as simple as that, and it's convenient as well.
This program will provide immediate help to seniors without destabilizing Medicare's finances. Yet, my prescription drug plan is only a first step. We need broader reform to bring Medicare into the 21st century. We need to expand coverage, improve services, strengthen Medicare financing, and give seniors more control over the health care they receive. And as Congress takes up legislation, they should be guided by some basic principles.
First, for everyone in retirement or near retirement, any changes in their Medicare coverage should be up to them. No senior should have to accept something different if they like Medicare just the way it is.
Second, all seniors should be offered a range of new Medicare plans, both Government and private. Every plan offered to seniors should have at least the same benefits as the Government plan. And all plans must offer prescription drug coverage.
Third, everyone enrolled in Medicare should have the power to choose which plan works best for him or her. The plans will compete with each other, forcing them to offer better service, extra benefits, and lower premiums.
Fourth, reform must provide special help to seniors with low incomes and unusually high medical costs. We must put caps on the amount any senior can be asked to pay in a year. And since the reformed Medicare will cover prescription drugs, low income seniors will no longer have to pay for costly Medigap insurance.
And finally, we must strengthen Medicare's finances and make sure that the benefits promised to our seniors will be always there.
Medicine in America is constantly improving, and Medicare must improve at the same pace. By these principles, we can assure that Medicare will always offer seniors the care they need with the quality they deserve.
Thank you very much for listening.