Secretary Cohen, Senator Mansfield, Senator Hill, distinguished Members of Congress, ladies and gentlemen:
I am glad all of you could come here today to celebrate our progress in health. It is a blessing which Emerson rightly called "the first wealth."
We hear a great deal about change these days--about new leadership. And anyone concerned about those topics would do very well to ponder the meaning of the bill that I will shortly sign into law. That bill we call the Health Service Act of 1968.
This bill tells a story about the change that has taken place in America. It reflects some very important basic changes--both in attitudes and in laws--which have taken place throughout our country in recent years.
In health alone, we have taken some major giant steps. In 5 years we have enacted more than 35 major health laws; we have strengthened the old programs; we have launched many new ones; we have already tripled our investment in health programs from $5 billion to $15 billion.
The act that we will sign today will help millions of citizens in literally dozens of ways.
First: This law offers help to the most helpless and the most dispossessed people that live among us--the migrant workers. Across the Nation, we have 115 health centers now serving more than 300,000 poor people in 36 different States. To thousands of these wanderers whose lives were once almost totally hopeless, we are extending hope as well as healing.
Second: Through this law, we will boost another very vital effort. We call this the regional medical program. You have heard me speak on that before. But this program is against heart disease, cancer, and stroke. You only have to read the front page of your morning paper any morning, or hear your radio or see a television program to observe the great miracles that are being worked in heart cases.
We saw one yesterday when we celebrated the birthday of one of our great Presidents. He has suffered, I believe, 13 heart attacks. Yet, he had that infectious smile as he looked over the balcony of Walter Reed yesterday, because of the great progress that we have made in this field.
Through these programs, more than 1,000 different institutions and more than 5,000 health professionals are today at work. Their goal is to make sure that no time is wasted in speeding the research knowledge that we acquire in our great centers--the National Institutes of Health, or the Walter Reeds, or the Mayos, or others throughout the Nation--to the patients in the far corners of this land and of this world who urgently need that knowledge quickly.
Third: We strengthen our efforts today to try to restore and try to rebuild the lives of alcoholics and unfortunate drug addicts. Working through 286 different community mental health centers, this program will help thousands of sick Americans who are trapped by drink or by drugs. It will help them in their communities--and it will not be necessary to uproot them from their homes or from their families.
Fourth: By extending the Solid Waste Disposal Act, we advance not only health, but conservation, because we intend to scale down the mountains of garbage, waste, and refuse which our incredibly productive Nation is piling up each year.
And finally, we extend the Hill-Burton program. That effort has added already 400,000 different hospital beds to our Nation's capacity. It has built other very essential health facilities in more than 3,500 communities. We no longer have to depend on the big city to furnish us hospital service. Almost every small town has had some benefit from this program.
It is a partnership--the Hill-Burton Act-between the Government and the people, between the Federal, the State, and the local authorities. I am honored and very proud to say that it is a living monument to the most famous champion of health legislation in our time, who honors us with his presence this morning, Senator Lister Hill of the State of Alabama.
Thus, through this law and others, we are expressing a real commitment to change, a commitment to creative and to compassionate change in this land we love. In the health field, the changes of these years add up to one thing: That is a declaration that our modern society owes every citizen a chance to have good health care. That is what we mean by the right to good health.
When I came into this office 5 years ago, I came with the idea that modern society owed to each child a right to get all the education that he or she could take, and each citizen the right to have good health care. We have not completed that journey, but we are far down the road on it. And I would hope that in the years ahead you would keep tab on these measures that are repealed from our statute books.
I remember Mr. Rayburn said one time that during the hectic thirties, when people thought we legislated too much, too fast, too far, too comprehensive, that he wanted them to take a microscope and look at the bills that the succeeding administrations, who called for change, had repealed. And not one single major measure of the Roosevelt administration of that time--so many that he offered--had ever been repealed.
I predict of these 35 major health bills that the change is going to have to take place in some other field--not this one.
This law, I think, will greatly strengthen the right of every citizen to have good health. I hope that nothing will ever happen to diminish that right--or to diminish the programs that we have built.
Insofar as I am concerned, as long as I breathe, I intend to work to protect that right. I appeal to all of my fellow citizens to protect it, too. It is something that every American needs and it is something that every American has a right to expect.
So I am very proud, in the presence of this little gathering, this morning, to affix my signature to a measure that does a lot for a good many people.