Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 13, 1998


The East Room

2:45 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Mr. Vice President, thank you for your work on this issue and your interest in it. I thank Secretary Shalala, Secretary Herman, Secretary West, the members of the White House staff who worked on this. But especially let me thank the members of the commission and the Executive Director of the commission, Janet Corrigan. They have done a remarkable citizen service for the people of the United States of America and we're all very grateful to them. (Applause.)

As we approach a new century with all its stunning advances in science and technology, we know that many of them will come in medicine and health. We must act now to spread these breakthroughs and improve the quality of health care for every American. I accept the commission's report. I endorse your recommendations.

For five years we have worked to expand access to quality health care for the American people, step by step: health insurance coverage for people who move between jobs; expanded health care coverage for millions of children; strengthened Medicare with more preventive benefits. Last year, as the Vice President said, this commission recommended a Patient's Bill of Rights. Last month I acted to ensure by executive order that one-third of all Americans -- those in Medicare, Medicaid, veterans health care systems and other federal plans -- enjoy the benefits of this Patient's Bill of Rights.

Now these protections must be extended to all Americans. And in the remaining 68 days of this congressional session, Congress must take the next step and make the Patient's Bill of Rights the law of the land. (Applause.)

Now, as you have told America in this report, we must also seize this moment of opportunity to improve the quality of health care for all our people. For all its strengths, our health care system still is plagued by avoidable errors -- overused and underused procedures and gaps in the quality of care. For example, when hundreds of thousands of Americans are needlessly injured while in the hospital, when 18,000 Americans die of heart attacks that did not have to be fatal, when 80,000 women undergo unnecessary hysterectomies every year, surely we can do better.

This commission has drawn a road map for higher quality across American health care. Above all, our nation must develop uniform national standards so that health plans can compete on quality, not just cost; and so that health care consumers can judge for themselves. This is the best way to assure quality health care for all Americans.

We can take three steps to advance these high health care standards. First, health care quality standards should be set at a forum bringing together providers, business and labor, consumers, insurers and government. I've asked the Vice President to convene this health care quality forum this June.

Second, I'm ordering federal agencies to create a task force to find ways to improve quality in the health care systems that we operate. The federal government must lead the way in lifting health care quality for all our people.

Third, I support this commission's recommendation to create a permanent Health Care Quality Council to set new goals and track our progress in meeting those goals. A council should be established by any health care quality legislation enacted this year.

We can make this year a time of real achievement in our mission to improve health care for every American. The American health care system has been the best in the world in the 20th century. If we press forward with medical research, enact a Patient's Bill of Rights, insist on high quality everywhere in America, continue to expand quality affordable coverage, protect and preserve Medicare and Medicaid, we can make American health care the best in the world in the 21st century.

Now I intend to sign an executive order to all the relevant agencies to make sure they work together to develop the standards you recommend for quality health care, first for those whom we reach, and hopefully as a model for all Americans.

Again, I thank this commission. I ask the people and the members of the press here present to remember just the single instances I cited from the commission's report of examples where we still have serious quality changes. And I ask you all to rededicate yourself to this purpose on this day.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

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