Richard Nixon photo

Radio Address on Health Policy

November 03, 1972

Good afternoon:

Whenever people start talking about how exciting life would have been a century or two ago, a friend of mine likes to respond, "But what if you had broken your leg?"

He has a good point. Nothing has done more to improve the quality of life in recent years than the progress of medical science.

I believe the best way to continue this progress in the future is to build on the system that produced our progress in the past.

We have done a lot of building in the last 4 years.

We have increased Federal spending on health more than 50 percent, from $16 billion to $25 billion.

I proposed--and the Congress enacted-the most comprehensive program in history to train more doctors and nurses and dentists, to train them faster and more effectively, to attract them to small towns and inner cities and other places where they are now in short supply.

In the last 2 years we have more than doubled Federal support for cancer research. We have stripped away the red tape from our cancer programs. We have made them directly accountable to the President.

We have taken new steps to fight heart disease. We have launched a new campaign against sickle cell anemia, a cruel threat to black Americans. Our program to prevent occupational accidents and illnesses has been enacted.

We have taken major steps to expand Medicare and Medicaid, to improve veterans hospitals, nursing homes, and emergency medical services, to protect consumers against unsafe food and drugs and dangerous household products.

Our campaign against drug abuse is 11 times bigger than it was 4 years ago. We are spending more than three times as much to fight hunger and malnutrition. We have established a national goal to cut the incidence of mental retardation in half by the year 2000.

One of the greatest problems we faced in the 1960's was the skyrocketing cost of health care. In that 10 years, medical prices went up twice as fast as the cost of living.

Just last week [October 27] I met with the Committee on the Health Services Industry of our Cost of Living Council. They reported that under our new economic policy we have cut the rise in medical care prices by more than two-thirds, from 6.4 percent a year ago to only 2.1 percent in the last year. The health care industry, once one of the most inflationary sectors of our economy, has become one of the least inflationary. Now to keep it that way we must balance the growing demand for health care with a growing supply of health services.

As I look back at the record of the past 4 years, I think of the comment which Dr. Jonas Salk made when he received a gold medal from President Eisenhower for developing the vaccine against polio. "I feel," he said, "that the greatest reward for doing is the opportunity to do more." Well, I feel the same way today.

As we look to the future, one of our great goals is to make our health system more efficient--so that each doctor, each hospital, and each health dollar can do more good. The Federal Government is already taking the lead in demonstrating the effectiveness of medical assistants who help doctors with routine tasks. We also want to encourage programs which will help doctors organize their services more conveniently and more efficiently, with greater emphasis on keeping people healthy rather than treating them only after they get sick.

No American family should be denied access to adequate medical care because of inability to pay. The most important health proposal not acted on by the 92d Congress was my program for helping people pay for care.

This program would fill the gaps in many current health insurance programs.

For example, most working poor families-who do not qualify for welfare-cannot afford adequate health insurance coverage. Our plan would make adequate insurance available at no cost--or at a very low cost--for these families, families who work rather than who go on welfare.

Second, present plans often fail to protect families in all income levels against the catastrophic cost of major illnesses and accidents. They often have very restrictive upper limits, which means that the insurance often runs out while the expenses are still running up. Our program would provide broad catastrophic coverage.

Third, present plans often fail to cover services in doctors' offices. As a result, many hospitals are crowded with people who are there because that's the only way their insurance will pay their expenses. Our plan would change that, too.

Under our programs, every employer would have to provide all of his workers with a health insurance policy, just as he helps pay for workmen's compensation and social security today. The employer would pay at least 65 percent of the premium cost for the first few years and 75 percent thereafter. And our proposal would see that every policy provided good, sound, adequate protection.

One of the clearest choices in the 1972 Presidential election is the choice between the comprehensive health insurance plan, which is a private health insurance plan that I have just described, and our opponents' plan for a medical system which is paid for by the taxpayers and controlled by the Federal Government.

Let's take a look at the opposition program. According to a report prepared for the House Ways and Means Committee, its total cost to the taxpayers each year would be a staggering $91 billion. This means that health alone would take up more than one-third of the entire Federal budget. Look at this figure. The average family's Federal tax bill for health would go from $457 a year today to $1,305 a year, nearly triple, under their program.

There is another point worth noting: our opponents' claim that all their new spending programs can be financed by sweeping cuts in defense and only a few new taxes. But somehow they managed to omit this $91 billion item from that painless version of their budget. A New York Times editorial was right 9 weeks ago when it described this as a "major omission." When that $91 billion is added in, their budget is nowhere near so painless. It would require a Federal tax increase of 50 percent.

Our opponents' federalized, tax-supported system would be very costly in terms of dollars and cents. But it would also be very costly in terms of the quality of American medicine. Not only would our pocketbooks be much poorer, our health care would be much poorer, too.

If the Government pays all the medical bills, then only the Government has a stake in holding down medical costs. This means that Government officials would have to approve hospital budgets and set fee schedules and take other steps that would eventually lead to the complete Federal domination of American medicine. I think this is the wrong road for America. It is the road that has been taken by so many countries abroad to their regret.

Rather than freeing the doctor so that he can do more for his patients, our opponents' plan would burden him with the dead weight of more bureaucracy, more forms, more red tape.

Rather than expanding the range of choice for doctors and patients, it would severely narrow their range of choice. It would concentrate more responsibility in Washington. It would dull the incentive to experiment and innovate.

Some people automatically assume that the plan that costs the most will help the most. But we cannot simply buy our way to better medicine. In this case the plan that costs the most is the plan that would actually do the most to hurt the quality of our health care.

Our plan would build on the strengths of our present health insurance industry. Our opponents' plan would eliminate that industry entirely.

Our plan would reform and improve our present health care system. Our opponents' plan would tear that system apart. This is one of the clearest choices in this campaign.

Building on the strengths of our present system, we can make tremendous progress in the years ahead. One development which will speed our progress is a new spirit of international cooperation.

When I was in Moscow last May, I signed several historic agreements. Perhaps the one that most people think of first is the agreement to limit strategic weapons. But it may well be, 20 or 40 or 100 years from now, that another achievement in Moscow will be remembered with it--our agreement to cooperate in the field of medicine. Let me give one example.

Take cancer. More people died of cancer in the United States last year than were killed in action in all of World War II as far as the United States was concerned.

Disease is an international menace. We must fight it with an international alliance.

Who knows who will discover the cure for cancer? It may be a woman now studying at a university in Europe or a boy who now sits in a South American school. It could be an American or a Russian or a Chinese. Or there may be many partial cures from many sources. But this we know: The cure for cancer-or any other disease--will come faster if we all work together to find it.

The barriers between nations may be great. But when it comes to improving health, our common interests are even greater.

Several weeks after the Moscow summit, the Russian Minister of Health came to the United States. One of the places he visited was Fort Detrick, Maryland. For years, Fort Detrick was one of the most secret places in our country, dedicated to research on biological warfare-perfecting the instruments of death. But last year we decided to convert it into a laboratory for research on cancer--dedicated to the preservation of life.

I visited Fort Detrick last year, on the day I announced its conversion. I directed that it now should be thrown open to scientists from all over the world. It was in that spirit that Fort Detrick welcomed the Russian Minister of Health almost one year later.

There he stood, in a place which once had been the symbol of a closed world, a world of suspicion and confrontation, a place where some of the best minds of our nation had prepared for a possible war against this nation.

Now this same place had become the symbol of an open world, a world of cooperation and trust. It had become a meeting ground where the best minds from every nation could work together to save life everywhere on earth.

We still have a long way to go--but our goal is clear. And for me its symbol is Fort Detrick, Maryland, welcoming the Soviet Minister of Health.

This is the kind of world we must leave for our children, a world in which the genius that split the atom and took us to the Moon is turned not to conquering one another but to conquering pain and disease, making our world a healthier, happier place for our people and for all people.

Thank you, and good afternoon.

Note: The address was recorded at the White House for broadcast at 12:07 p.m. on nationwide radio. Time for the broadcast was purchased by the Committee for the Re-Election of the President.

The President spoke from a prepared text. An advance text of his address was released on the same day.

Richard Nixon, Radio Address on Health Policy Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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