THE PRESIDENT. Today I'm proposing to the Congress a National Health Plan. This major initiative will meet the most urgent needs in health care of the American people in a practical, cost-efficient, and fiscally responsible manner. It will provide health care for millions of Americans and protect our people against the overwhelming financial burdens of major illness.
It's been 30 years since President Harry Truman proposed access to quality health care as a basic right for Americans, and it's been nearly 15 years since the Congress enacted legislation establishing Medicaid and Medicare. Now is the time to move forward again.
I challenge all those who are concerned about health and financial security of the American people to rise above the differences that have created stalemate for the last 30 years, and act now, this year. No American should live in fear that serious illness or accident will bring bankruptcy or a lifetime of debt. Yet today 80 million Americans are unprotected against catastrophic medical costs. Millions more may lose their health insurance through unemployment or because of the death of a parent or a spouse. The National Health Plan will rid this Nation of the fear of financial ruin from catastrophic illness.
No American should be deprived of a right for health services or be discouraged about obtaining medical treatment because of poverty. The National Health Plan will extend comprehensive coverage, a full range of medical and hospital care, to almost 16 million low-income Americans for the first time. No elderly American should be forced to depend on charity when Medicare hospital coverage reaches its limits or face unlimited out-of-pocket expenses for medical care. The National Health Plan guarantees adequate hospital coverage for the elderly and for the disabled, caps their out-of-pocket expenses, and requires physicians to accept Medicare payments as full payment for coverage of covered services.
No newborn child in America should be denied a chance for a full and productive life because of a lack of needed health service care. Our infant mortality rate is one of the highest in the industrialized world. My plan will provide prenatal, delivery, and infant care to all pregnant women and newborn children up to the age of 1 year.
And no American taxpayer should be forced to foot the bill for waste, fraud, and inefficient administration. The National Health Plan will establish Healthcare, a new Federal program consolidating Medicare and Medicaid into a single administrative unit. Through good management practices, the National Health Plan will curb waste, will eliminate duplication and abuse, and encourage competition.
A strong and effective health system absolutely requires establishment of cost containment measures far more effective than we have today. The American people now spend more than 9 percent of our gross national product on health services, $200 billion a year. Hospital costs are rising $1 million per hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It's time to draw the line on skyrocketing hospital costs.
For 2 years, now, I've asked Congress for hospital cost containment legislation. That bill alone will save Americans $53 billion over the next 5 years. I've had the support of key congressional leaders, including those here today. Congress must enact a strong hospital cost containment bill if the National Health Plan is to become a reality.
A truly comprehensive health program is among the great unfinished items on our Nation's social agenda. The National Health Plan I'm submitting today establishes the framework and creates the momentum for reaching that long-sought goal. This plan meets urgent national needs. No longer will the elderly find the benefits of Medicare illusory when they are most needed. No longer will working families live in fear of catastrophic medical expenses. No longer will millions of the poor be forced to depend only on emergency rooms or outpatient clinics or charity hospitals for basic care, or do without health care altogether. No longer will low-income women be forced to bring their children into the world with inadequate medical care or help.
There are those who sincerely believe that we must insist upon a full-scale, comprehensive plan enacted all at once. The idea of all or nothing has been pursued now for almost three decades. But I must say in all candor that no child of poverty, no elderly American, no middle-class family has yet benefited from a rigid and unswerving commitment to this principle of all or nothing. The National Health Plan that I proposed will provide millions of our people—men, women, and children-with better health, greater economic security, and more productive, dignified, and hopeful lives. The American people have waited long enough. I call on the Congress to act without delay.
I might say that the Healthcare plan has been evolved through careful consultation with key congressional leaders and with representatives of American organizations and groups over the last few months. Today we have many of those congressional leaders represented here, with the leadership of crucial committees, and I'd like to call on a few of them to say a word at this time.
First, in the House, I'd like to ask Jim Corman and Chairman Charlie Rangel to say a word, and then I'll call on others after them.
REPRESENTATIVE CORMAN. Thank you, Mr. President.
As you know, some of us have worked long and hard for a national health security program. This is a very constructive first step. For the first time, it acknowledges the fact that regardless of whether they're rich or poor, women expecting children and babies, and hopefully in later years, older children, will have universal coverage. We'll see if that works. If it does, we have something to build on. And I'm delighted and honored to support the program.
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Jim.
REPRESENTATIVE RANGEL. Thank you, Mr. President.
I'm pleased to be here with such distinguished colleagues in government. It is true that we have been rather stubborn in trying to get our way for bills that we thought were in the best interests of the American people. But I think by seeing the leadership and the sponsors of your legislation here today, that it means that we can no longer afford the purity of our position at the expense of our aged and our youngsters, and we're looking forward in the Subcommittee on Health in Ways and Means in getting this before our committee as soon as possible.
And I personally am pleased that my colleague on that subcommittee, Jim Corman, that has a constituency of his own, will be joining with me in the sponsorship of the bill.
THE PRESIDENT. Now Congressman Harley Staggers, the chairman of the commerce committee in the House.
REPRESENTATIVE STAGGERS. Mr. President, my colleagues, ladies and gentle-
I'm happy to be here on this really momentous occasion, and to congratulate you, Mr. President, for having the courage to bring forth a bill now, because it's been, as you said, proposed back in Harry Truman's time. And each President since that time has talked about it. This is the first instrument that I've seen that a President has brought to the Hill. And I congratulate you on your vision and your courage for doing it.
And I would say that in this bill is something that I've believed in and talked so much about, is the fact of prevention of disease. I've said that so many times we wait until somebody gets sick, and then we want to get the cure. Let's try to keep them, as you do in this bill, try to keep them from getting sick.
I think prevention is the greatest thing that we've missed all down through the centuries, instead of healing. We need healing, this is true; people are bound to get sick. And this is an instrument of healing and of mercy to the people of the land, and I congratulate you again.
THE PRESIDENT. I think you know that in both the House and Senate, there is a duality or more of responsibility for health care. The commerce committee and the Ways and Means Committee in the House will be the instrumental ones in actually getting legislation passed. In the Senate, of course, the Finance Committee and the health care committee will have the same responsibility.
We are fortunate to have Senator Russell Long here, who will be holding hearings very shortly. He can outline his exact schedule for you. But I think the fact that we have a broad range of support, as exhibited here on the platform with me, is a good indication that we mean business. We intend to have the health care plan passed and implemented for the benefit of the American people after so many decades of delay.
I'd like to ask Senator Russell Long to comment, if you will.
SENATOR LONG. Thank you, Mr. President.
It was my privilege to be the committee chairman and the Senate floor manager for the last big breakthrough in the health area. I refer to the bill that gave us Medicare and Medicaid. I applaud the President for the breakthrough that is implicit in what he has done here in providing leadership from the White House to move us a very long stride forward in better health legislation.
We on the Finance Committee will study the President's recommendations. We'll add some of our own. We'll try to take the best that he has to offer and the best that we can offer and bring the Senate a bill.
He's familiar with my views, and I think I'm familiar with the President's views. I would hope that we can join together in bringing better health care to the people even more rapidly than the President has in mind. It's my hope that we can move some of those dates forward, that some of the most urgent care that we'd like to see provided for the American people, that they're not now getting, will start next year, in 1980.
Of course, all these things are negotiable. We want to work with the President. I'm confident he'll work with us, and we're very happy about this day.
THE PRESIDENT. Russell, when do you think hearings might be starting?
SENATOR LONG. Well, we're already meeting on some parts of what you're recommending, Mr. President. We called off a meeting today to come here and talk to you. [Laughter] We were going to be meeting on cost containment this morning, but we'll be back at it tomorrow morning.
THE PRESIDENT. Very good. We'll let you hurry back and go to work.
SENATOR LONG. You can't ask for much more prompt service than that. [Laughter]
THE PRESIDENT. Senator Abe Ribicoff, who's worked for many years in the Senate for better health care.
SENATOR RIBICOFF. Mr. President, I think this is doable this year. It can only be done if the main actors will cooperate. And the main actors are the President of the United States, Senator Long, and Senator Kennedy. As I analyze the three proposals, there are so many similarities that there is no reason why the main parties involved—the President, Senator Long, and Senator Kennedy—can't compromise their difference and work this out.
In a speech on the Senate floor, I pointed out the similarities. There is rhetoric, there is controversy, there is politics in this issue that affects every person in the United States. But when you consider the similarities, the controversy can be submerged. And I believe the controversy will be submerged and we should be able to pass national health insurance this year.
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much. That's a good statement, and I agree with you.
Gaylord Nelson, who's helped us so much with hospital cost containment, and also with the broader aspects of health care.
SENATOR NELSON. Mr. President, as so often has been my fate throughout history in politics, I'm called upon to say something when everything else has been said. [Laughter]
Let me say, Mr. President, I wish to join the others here in commending you for moving forward with a health insurance plan. I think it is absolutely necessary that we have Presidential leadership in order to get moving, because there are as many plans as there are Members of Congress.
We're going to have to seek to reach a common agreement on proceeding to bring to the people of this country a sound and efficient health care insurance program, and you have taken a major step in the leadership position of coming forward with a proposal. And I join the chairman of the Finance Committee in saying that I know that we are prepared in that committee to proceed expeditiously to give consideration to the pending legislation, this one and others that are before the committee, and, I would hope, report legislation yet this year.
THE PRESIDENT. I think Senator Ribicoif expressed my feelings very clearly. For many years, the obstacle to progress was the wide disparity in concepts of what health care should be. But now there's a broad range of consensus.
I'm determined to see this legislation passed and to have it be advantageous for the poor people who are presently deprived of health care at all; the elderly, who have a genuine fear of dependence upon Medicare because benefits run out or because their costs are too high; mothers, or prospective mothers, who have the great responsibility of bringing a child into the world without adequate prenatal or postnatal care; and the average American family who can be wiped out financially by a catastrophic illness-these categories of Americans have waited too long for action. And now with a concerted effort by myself and my whole administration, the leaders in the House and Senate who have been long impatient about inaction, .and the full support of the American people, we will have success this year.
Now Secretary Joe Califano and Stu Eizenstat will be glad to answer questions on the specific nature of the proposal for the press. And we will now ask the Senators to go back to the Finance Committee and pass hospital cost containment- [laughter] —to clear the decks for this broader coverage consideration in the very near future.
Thank you very much.