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Monday, June 23, 2003 Contact: HHS Press Office
(202) 690-6343


HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson is sending the nation's four top doctors on a cross-country "Better Benefits Tour" this week to promote the need for strengthening Medicare with modern medicine delivered in a modern way.

Secretary Thompson said that, as America's leading health advocates, he and the four doctors know full well the need for better benefits and more choices in Medicare, which is what President Bush envisions for the program. Thus, the Secretary is taking the rare step of sending Surgeon General Richard Carmona, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Julie Gerberding, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Mark McClellan, and National Institutes of Health Director Elias Zerhouni out together to raise awareness about the important work taking place to improve Medicare.

"As America's leading health advocates, we know how important it is to strengthen Medicare so that seniors have access to modern medicine," Secretary Thompson said. "The four doctors speak with great authority about the need to modernize Medicare with coverage for prescription drugs, disease prevention and disease management as well as protection from high out-of-pocket costs. And they also know the importance of delivering this modern medicine in a modern way, by giving seniors more choices in benefits packages that best fit their needs."

Secretary Thompson kicked off the tour in Washington on Monday with the four doctors before sending them to stops in Miami, Chicago, Denver and San Diego over three days. The tour comes as both the Senate and House work to pass legislation this week to improve Medicare.

"The President is putting forth an innovative and balanced vision for giving seniors better benefits and more choices, and we want to continue encouraging Congress to pass bipartisan legislation bringing Medicare into the 21st century," Secretary Thompson said. "We need to finally get the job done and strengthen Medicare."

The President proposed $400 billion to modernize and improve Medicare. The framework he set forth would give all Medicare beneficiaries access to:

  • Prescription drug coverage that enables seniors to get the medicines they need, without the government dictating their drug choices.
  • Choice of an individual health care plan that best fits their
    needs-just like Members of Congress and other federal employees enjoy today.
  • Choice of the doctor, hospital, or place they want for the treatment
    and care they need.
  • Full coverage for disease prevention such as screenings for cancer,
    diabetes and osteoporosis.
  • Protection from high out-of-pocket costs that threaten to rob
    seniors of their savings.

The President also wants to make sure that low-income seniors receive additional financial assistance so they will not have to pay more to receive better benefits than they currently do under Medicare. The fundamentals of the President's framework are included, thus far, in legislation before the House and Senate.

Dr. Zerhouni said the quality of health care for seniors is a primary concern for each of the HHS institutions involved in the tour, so it is important for America's doctors to be involved in Medicare even though they have no direct oversight of the program.

"Strengthening Medicare is a national priority, and as the nation's doctors we believe it is important to raise awareness about the need for the benefits of modern medicine in Medicare," Dr. Elias Zerhouni said. "As a doctor, and as director of America's leading research institution, it is imperative to me that we make sure seniors in Medicare have access to modern medicine at an affordable cost."

Dr. Gerberding said disease prevention is a major priority for the CDC, thus her agency is appreciative of the President's insistence on providing better opportunities for preventive care in Medicare.

"As a physician dedicated to the prevention of disease, I believe
strengthening Medicare with better benefits for preventive care and disease management is overdue," Dr. Gerberding said. "Paying a relatively small cost for the prevention of disease makes much more sense than paying for the high costs of treating disease and its complications later. That's why these better benefits make sense for Medicare beneficiaries, for taxpayers, and for the health care system."

The most fundamental better benefit being sought for Medicare is prescription drug coverage for beneficiaries, so they have affordable access to modern medicines.

"This is an era in which drugs are becoming increasingly specialized and can more accurately and effectively target diseases -- improving the quality of care and quality of life for seniors," Dr. McClellan said. " The FDA works hard to get safe, effective drugs to the marketplace for the benefit of Americans. We want to make sure that seniors can afford to reap the benefits of modern medicine."

HHS believes an important component of Medicare must be protection from the high costs of health care for seniors, so they are not robbed of their savings by a lengthy hospital stay or particularly expensive medicines. Thus, the President's framework provides opportunities to protect seniors from such costs.

"Right now under Medicare, a lengthy hospital stay or the need to stay on expensive medication can devastate seniors financially, potentially wiping out a lifetime of hard-earned savings," Dr. Carmona said. "The President wants to provide protection from high costs to seniors in Medicare. As a doctor who has worked in hospitals, I know this is an essential benefit. There's nothing more sad and discouraging than seeing a senior citizen financially ruined if they need expensive but life-saving treatments and hospital stays."

The President's framework seeks to also improve the way modern medicine is delivered to seniors. He wants to structurally modernize Medicare as well so that seniors have more choices in health benefits that best meets their needs. These would be the same array of choices in doctors, hospitals and benefits that America's four doctors have as well as all federal employees
and members of Congress.

Secretary Thompson and the Surgeon General emphasized that greater choice is a fundamental priority for seniors in their health care. This would include, for example, allowing seniors to keep their popular PPO plan when they turn 65, rather than being forced into traditional Medicare.

The framework seeks to combine the best practices of the government-run Medicare program with successful components of the competitive free market system.

"By keeping the existing government system, building on its strengths and incorporating the best ideas of the marketplace, we can create a modern and efficient Medicare program for the 21st century," Secretary Thompson said. " A program that gives seniors more choices in benefits that best meet their needs."

Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are available at