STATE OF THE UNION I: Clinton Sets Goals for Health Care
In his longest and last State of the Union address, President Clinton asked Congress to approve the health care initiatives in his FY 2001 budget, improving upon the state of the union that is "the strongest it has ever been," the Washington Post reports (Babington, 1/28). As expected, Clinton called upon Congress to broaden the scope of CHIP to include parents of the children covered by the program, saying that the move would cover nearly one-quarter of the 44 million uninsured. And in doing so, he gave credit to Vice President Al Gore. The president asked Congress to pass a "real patients' bill of rights" and called for Medicare benefits to be extended to individuals between ages 55 and 65, which he called "the fastest growing group of the uninsured." Clinton announced that his budget will designate $400 billion of the budget surplus to ensure Medicare solvency through 2025. Turning to prescription drugs, Clinton said, "No one creating a Medicare program today would even think of excluding coverage for prescription drugs. Yet more than three in five of our seniors now lack dependable drug coverage which can lengthen and enrich their lives. ... In good conscience, we cannot let another year pass without extending to all our seniors this lifeline of affordable prescription drugs."
Clinton also spoke of his proposed $3,000 tax credit for long term care and expanded access to mental health care. Clinton said, "Taken together, these proposals would mark the largest investment in health care in the 35 years since Medicare was created -- the largest investment in 35 years. That would be a big step toward assuring quality health care for all Americans, young and old. And I ask [Congress] to embrace them and pass them" (Washington Post transcript, 1/28). Precise figures for Clinton's proposals will not be available until he presents the budget next month (Washington Post, 1/28).
Later in his speech, Clinton mentioned medical advances that could come from human genome research, saying, "It is important for all our fellow Americans to recognize that federal tax dollars have funded much of this research, and that this and other wise investments in science are leading to a revolution in our ability to detect, treat and prevent disease" (Washington Post transcript, 1/28). Clinton also proposed a $1 billion tax incentive to encourage drugmakers to bolster work on an HIV/AIDS vaccine, as well as vaccines for malaria and tuberculosis (Washington Post, 1/28).
A Little Restraint, Please
Contrary to previous predictions, Clinton "did not accuse drug companies of charging excessive prices, as he often has in the past," the New York Times reports. He also did not belabor the details of his prescription benefit plan. The Times reports that his "restraint may have indicated that he wanted to work with Republicans and the drug industry to forge a compromise ... Or it may simply have reflected the fact that his speech was backed with dozens of proposals on health care, education, gun control and other issues." Regardless, Clinton's speech and proposals "will set the tone for campaign debates and will influence the agenda of Congress" (Pear, 1/28).