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Bill Clinton on Health Care

President of the U.S., 1993-2001; Former Democratic Governor (AR)


ObamaCare has already insured millions and reduced costs

The Republicans call it, derisively, "Obamacare." They say it's a government takeover, a disaster, and that if we'll just elect them, they'll repeal it. Well, are they right? Let's take a look at what's actually happened so far.
  1. Individuals and businesses have already gotten more than $1 billion in refunds from insurance companies because the new law requires 80% of your premium to go to your health care, not profits or promotion.
  2. More than 3 million young people between 19 and 25 are insured for the first time because their parents' policies can cover them.
  3. Millions of seniors are receiving preventive care
  4. Soon the insurance companies will have millions of new customers, many of them middle-class people with pre-existing conditions who never could get insurance before.
  5. For the last two years, health care costs have been under 4% in both years for the first time in 50 years.
So are we better off because Obama fought for health care reform? You bet we are.
Source: 2012 Democratic National Convention speech , Sep 5, 2012

Compromise on delivery methods to preserve full healthcare

Q: What do Democrats misunderstand about how to make the economy work again?

A: What the Democrats have to understand is, if they want to preserve a health care program for people who need it and the benefits of Medicare, we have to be willing to chang the delivery system. We're spending too much on the way we finance health care and the way we pay for it. [Just like] the Republicans can't be completely allergic to taxes, the Democrats can't be completely allergic to changes in health care delivery.

Source: Time Magazine on "Back To Work" book tour by Bill Clinton , Jan 21, 2011

Failure in 1993 echoed Truman's failure in 1945

Some years ago, the president proclaimed that it was time to guarantee health care to every American. "Millions of our citizens do not now have a full opportunity to enjoy good health. Millions do not now have protection against the economic effects of sickness. The time has arrived for action to help them attain that opportunity and that protection," said the president.

President Bill Clinton might have uttered those words in 1993, but he didn't. It was Harry Truman, in 1945, promoting his own, doomed plan to guarantee health care to every American. Like Clinton, Truman had reason to be confident. But both presidents underestimated the strength of the forces arrayed against them. Special-interest lobbyists--led by doctors in Truman's time, and insurance companies in Clinton's--fanned the public's fear that government bureaucrats would come between doctors & patients. And when the Republicans triumphed in the subsequent midterm elections in 1946 & 1994, health-care reform was effectively dead.

Source: Critical, by Tom Daschle, p. xii-xiii , Feb 19, 2008

Helped provide antiretrovirals to developing nations

In 2002 the Clinton Foundation launched an HIV/AIDS initiative (CHAI), to help developing nations deal with AIDS by setting up effective health systems, including diagnosis, care, and treatment, and by providing vital antiretroviral medicines & essential testing at the lowest costs in the world.

Last year, in the Bahamas, the first country to participate in our effort, I had a reunion with 5-year-old twin girls who were desperately ill when I first met them but are healthy now because of the low-cost medicine purchased through our project. I have held orphans in Cambodia who are receiving lifesaving medicine through our AIDS initiative. Our program now works in 25 countries to diagnose, test, and care for people with HIV/AIDS, and 44 more nations are able to buy low-cost drugs and testing materials under our contract. As of 2007, about 750,000 more people are receiving treatment purchased under CHAI agreements, representing about a third of all those in the developing world receiving treatment today.

Source: Giving, by Bill Clinton, p. 5 , Sep 4, 2007

Citizen action on childhood obesity & overweight adults

One skill we often mistakenly assume people already have is the ability to take good care of themselves through proper eating, exercise, and sleep. The percentage of overweight Americans has increased dramatically in the last 20 years, as we eat more and exercise and sleep less. Too many people's habits are determined by consideration of convenience and immediate cost, and too few children learn how to live healthy lifestyles at home or in school. The United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, and other nations are waging national campaigns against childhood obesity, the alarming rise in diabetes, and other health problems that undermine our physical, psychological, and economic well-being. Governments, schools, and large organizations are becoming more involved, but there is still plenty of room and need for citizen action.
Source: , Sep 4, 2007

Co-led bipartisan effort against child obesity

In May 2005, working with the American Heart Association, my foundation launched the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to halt the alarming rise of childhood obesity by 2010, then reverse it.

Today, 12.5 million American children are obese, an additional 13 million are overweight, and more and more of them are developing problems normally found only in adults--high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Type 2 diabetes, which can lead to heart attacks, strokes, blindness, and loss of limbs. If childhood obesity continues to increase, this young generation could be the first in American history to have shorter lives than their parents. I asked Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR) to co-lead the effort with me because he was a great example: he lost 110 pounds, got off his diabetes medicine, and ran his first marathon at age 49. After Huckabee left office, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA), who also has aggressively tackled the childhood obesity issue, became the Alliance co-leader.

Source: Giving, by Bill Clinton, p. 37-38 , Sep 4, 2007

2002: Signed on 69 nations to buy generic HIV/AIDS medicine

In 2002, to help the Caribbean nations establish systems for the prevention, care, and treatment of HIV/AIDS, we decided to buy generic antiretroviral medicines because they were so much less expensive, about $300 per person per year at the time. The government of the Bahamas was already providing generics to a few hundred people. Unbelievably, they were paying $3,500 per person per year for the $300 medicine because it was passing through two middlemen.

We worked with ten major generic producers to negotiate a price reduction from $300 to $139. The manufacturers and suppliers of essential ingredients agreed to shift from a low-volume, high margin, uncertain-payment business to a high-volume, low-margin, certain-payment one.

Today our foundation's AIDS initiative includes 69 countries, which are now able to treat 2 to 3 times as many people with the same amount of money. As I write this, almost 750,000 people are receiving treatment with drugs purchased under our contract terms.

Source: Giving, by Bill Clinton, p.179-181 , Sep 4, 2007

1993: Advisers urged scaling back Hillary’s healthcare role

In mid-August, with health care finally put on the calendar, though there was still no plan, Hillary & Bill took their first vacation in four years. Hillary used the vacation an opportunity to talk to Bill about her healthcare plans--without his economic advisors present.

Ira Magaziner and his aides were well along in drafting the legislation, and he and Hillary had told the president that he had to make some final choices about the bill’s content so it could arrive on Capital Hill when Congress returned after Labor Day. Before leaving, the president had been besieged by advisors who continued to warn that the deficit would be in danger of exploding if he listened to Hillary. They saw the plan she was developing as too big and too costly. The Clinton presidency would historically succeed, they advised, only if he would scale back his wife’s grandiose ideas about reform and settle on a more manageable and incremental approach. Clinton had said he would make a final decision after his vacation.

Source: A Woman in Charge, by Carl Bernstein, p.346 , Jun 5, 2007

1990s plan: affordable, competitive, universal healthcare

The Clintons' plan was nothing revolutionary. The idea was just to make health care universal, make it affordable, make it more competitive, and improve the quality. If different insurance companies had to offer the same benefits and compete on quality, the result would be better, cheaper health care. That was a worthy goal, but the administration made some mistakes in its communication strategy, and the press twisted everything they were doing way out of proportion. We were all learning lessons about how effective some people could be at manipulating the press.

"I didn't get that," Hillary says now. I read these newspapers. I sort of figured that what we read was a fact. I was shocked to find out otherwise."

Source: What A Party!, by Terry McAuliffe, p. 91 , Jan 23, 2007

1995 health plan lost on politics, not on substance

In the Republican year of 1994, Clinton was taking the Democratic setback personally. A key problem had been Clinton's massive healthcare reform plan, which had gone down to a crushing defeat. It was too much. The reconnection that Clinton as a candidate had made to the middle class in his 1992 campaign had been severed in the health care debate. The middle class, the Reagan Democrats, the New Democrats interpreted his health care plan with its emphasis on universal coverage for some 40 million uninsured people as a step back. Clinton was going to take something from THEM and give it to those who didn't work and to the poor.

That was not a fair assessment, Clinton protested, because their health care plan was going largely to help people who were working. Clinton insisted that the problem with the health care plan was not the substance. He had lost the communications and the political war. That was the screwed-up part.

Source: The Choice, by Bob Woodward, p.125-126 , Nov 1, 2005

Universal coverage would reduce bureaucratic costs

I was beginning to believe we [Hillary and Bill] might actually have honest debate that would produce something close to universal coverage. The bureaucratic costs imposed by insurance companies were a big reason Americans paid more for health care but still didn’t have the universal coverage that citizens in
Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.555 , Jun 21, 2004

Loosen eligibility for disability benefits

[As Arkansas Governor], I was upset with the Reagan administration. It had just dramatically tightened the eligibility rules for federal disability benefits. There had been abuses of the disability program, but the Reagan cure was worse than the problem. The regulations were so strict they were ridiculous. In Arkansas, a truck driver with a ninth-grade education had lost his arm in an accident. He was denied disability benefits on the theory that he could get a desk job doing clerical work.
Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.313 , Jun 21, 2004

Security,simplicity,savings,choice,quality, & responsibility

I was scheduled to present the health-care plan to a joint session of Congress on Sep. 22. I explained the problem--that one system cost too much and covered too few--and outlined the basic principles of our plan: security, simplicity, savings, choice, quality, and responsibility. Everyone would have coverage, through private insurers, that would not be lost when there was an illness or a job change; there would be far less paperwork because of a uniform minimum-benefit package; we would reap large savings through lower administrative costs.

Under our plan, Americans would be able to choose their own health plan and keep their own doctors, choices that were vanishing for more and more Americans whose insurance was carried by health maintenance organizations (HMOs).

If the system I had proposed had been adopted, it would have reduced inflation in health-care costs, spread the burden of paying for health care more fairly, and provided health security to millions of Americans who didn't have it.

Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.547-549 , Jun 21, 2004

1992 campaign: “It’s the economy, stupid” but healthcare too

I don’t think that Bill expected that health care reform would become a cornerstone of his campaign. After all, James Carville’s famous war room slogan was “It’s the economy, stupid.” But the more Bill studied the problem, the clearer it became that reforming health care and reining in costs were integral to fixing the economy, as well as taking care of people’s urgent medical needs.

Bill and expert advisers began developing ideas about how to tackle health care. Bill previewed those plans in a campaign book entitled Putting People First and in a speech. The reforms he outlined included controlling spiraling health care costs, reducing paperwork and insurance industry red tape, making prescriptions more affordable to those in need, and, most important, guaranteeing that all Americans had health insurance. We knew that trying to fix the health care system would be a huge political challenge. But we believed that if voters chose Bill Clinton on Nov. 3, it meant that change was what they wanted.

Source: Living History, by Hillary Clinton, p.115-116 , Nov 1, 2003

Allowing patients to choose doctors is non-negotiable

Bill and other Democrats [in 1994] rejected the single-payer and Medicare models, preferring a quasi-private system called "managed competition" that relied on private market forces to drive down costs through competition. The government would have a smaller role, including setting standards for benefit packages and helping to organize purchasing cooperatives.

The best model was the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan, which covered nine million federal employees and offered an array of insurance options to its members. Prices and quality were monitored by the plan's administrators.

Under managed competition, hospitals and doctors would no longer bear the expense of treating patients who weren't covered because everyone would be insured through Medicare, Medicaid, the veterans and military health care plans or one of the purchasing groups.

Perhaps most important, the system would allow patients to choose their own doctors, a non-negotiable item in Bill's view.

Source: Living History, by Hillary Rodham Clinton, p.150 , Nov 1, 2003

Despite reform failure, smaller reforms helped millions

[After reform failure], Bill signed a series of bills, including laws ensuring that women be allowed to stay in the hospital for more than 24 hours after childbirth, promoting mammography and prostate screening, increasing research into diabetes and improving childhood vaccination rates. None of these actions represented a seismic shift on the order of the Health Security Act. But collectively, these reforms of health care policy improved conditions for tens of millions of Americans.

On balance I think we made the right decision to try to reform the whole system. By 2002, with the economy in trouble again and the financial savings of managed care in the 90s having leveled out, health insurance costs were again rising, the number of people without insurance was going up and seniors on Medicare still didn't have prescription drug coverage. Someday we will fix the system. When we do it, it will be the result of more than 50 years of efforts by Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Bill and me.

Source: Living History, by Hillary Rodham Clinton, p.248-249 , Nov 1, 2003

OpEd: Opposition to reform are "theologically-held" opinions

Pres. Nixon recognized the draining effects of health costs on the economy and proposed a system of universal health care as an "employer mandate." Presidents Ford and Carter also pursued reform in the 1970s, but they ran into the same political obstacle that had blocked change for most of the 20th century. Over several decades, the health insurance industry had grown increasingly powerful.

The historical odds were against Bill because attitudes about health care reform were diverse, even among Democrats. As one expert put it, opinions are "theologically held"--this impervious to reason, evidence or argument. But Bill felt he had to show the public and the Congress that he had the political will to move forward and make good on his campaign promise to take immediate action on health care. Reform was not only good public policy that would help millions of Americans. It also was inextricably tied to reducing the deficit.

Source: Living History, by Hillary Rodham Clinton, p.146-147 , Nov 1, 2003

Preferred healthcare vouchers in 1994

The President later admitted, during one of our conversations, that a more elegant, Third Way solution would have been to simply give health care tax credits (or vouchers, in effect) to those who needed them, mostly the working poor (the very poorest receive health care coverage through Medicaid). This was, essentially, the proposal first made by Stuart Butler of the Heritage Foundation and resurrected, in modified form, by former senator Bill Bradley in the 2000 Democratic presidential primary campaign. "That's what you're going to have to do eventually," the President conceded, "and if I could do it now, that's what I would offer. The problem was, I couldn't do it in '94, with the deficits the way they were, without a tax increase."
Source: The Natural, by Joe Klein, p.121-122 , Feb 11, 2003

Focus National Efforts on an AIDS Vaccine

On May 18, 1997, the President challenged the nation to develop an AIDS vaccine within the next ten years. He also announced a number of initiatives to help meet that goal, including high-level international collaboration, a dedicated research center for AIDS vaccine research at NIH, and outreach to scientists, pharmaceutical companies, and patient advocates to maximize the involvement of both private and public sectors in the development of an AIDS vaccine. In June 1999 the President dedicated the Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Research Center at the NIH and announced that the primary work of this new center will be HIV vaccine research. NIH has increased funding for AIDS vaccine research by 100 percent since the President’s challenge.

As of June 1998, researchers have evaluated 27 vaccine candidates. And in February 1999, NIH-supported investigators initiated the first AIDS vaccine trial in Africa.

Source: WhiteHouse.gov web site , May 1, 2000

Patients' Bill of Rights: right to know all medical options

I think we ought to say to every American: You should have the right to know all your medical options, not just the cheapest. If you need a specialist, you should have a right to see one. You have a right to the nearest emergency care if you're in an accident. These are things that we ought to say. And I think we ought to say: You should have a right to keep your doctor during a period of treatment, whether it's a pregnancy or a chemotherapy treatment, or anything else. I believe this.

Now, I've ordered these rights to be extended to the 85 million Americans served by Medicare, Medicaid, and other Federal health programs. But only Congress can pass a Patients' Bill of Rights for all Americans. Now, last year, Congress missed that opportunity, and we must not miss that opportunity again. For the sake of our families, I ask us to join together across party lines and pass a strong, enforceable Patients' Bill of Rights.

Source: Pres. Clinton's 1999 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 19, 1999

Managed care plans save money & improve care

Two years ago we helped guarantee that Americans can keep their health insurance when they change jobs. Last year we extended health care to up to 5 million children. This year I challenge Congress to take the next historic steps.

160 million of our fellow citizens are in managed care plans. These plans save money, and they can improve care. But medical decisions ought to be made by medical doctors, not insurance company accountants. I urge this Congress to reach across the aisle and write into law a consumer bill of rights that says this: You have the right to know all your medical options, not just the cheapest. You have the right to choose the doctor you want for the care you need. You have the right to emergency room care, wherever and whenever you need it. You have the right to keep your medical records confidential. Traditional care or managed care, every American deserves quality care.

Source: Pres. Clinton's 1998 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 27, 1998

Protect children from the epidemic of teen smoking

We must help parents protect their children from the gravest health threat that they face: an epidemic of teen smoking, spread by multimillion-dollar marketing campaigns. I challenge Congress: Let's pass bipartisan, comprehensive legislation that will improve public health, protect our tobacco farmers, and change the way tobacco companies do business forever. Let's do what it takes to bring teen smoking down. Let's raise the price of cigarettes by up to a dollar and a half a pack over the next 10 years, with penalties on the tobacco industry if it keeps marketing to our children. Tomorrow, like every day, 3,000 children will start smoking, and 1,000 will die early as a result. Let this Congress be remembered as the Congress that saved their lives.
Source: Pres. Clinton's 1998 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 27, 1998

Do more for health insurance

While Medicare takes care of Americans over the age of 65, we’re the only Western industrial nation that doesn’t provide a system of health insurance for all working people under 65. We worked hard to create comprehensive health care reform early in my administration. And while that larger challenge remains unmet, we now have, thanks to bipartisan efforts, a new law that ensures that people won’t automatically lose their health insurance when they change jobs or when somebody in the family gets sick.

But we have to do more. First, we should provide assistance to unemployed workers to help them keep their health insurance until they find a new job. We also need to make it easier for small businesses to buy into insurance risk pools that are large enough to make it possible to offer coverage at a reasonable cost.

Source: Between Hope and History, by Bill Clinton, p. 53-54 , Jan 1, 1996

We cannot get deficit to zero until we address health costs

At a June 1993 press conference, a reporter asked Clinton whether the budget deficit wouldn't creep back up after the 5th year of the plan. "That is true," Clinton said, "primarily because of the projected exploding costs in medical care. We cannot get the deficit down to zero, which is where it ought to be, until we do something about health care costs, which is why the next big piece of this administration's work is to provide a comprehensive health care plan." This plan was only the beginning.
Source: The Agenda, by Bob Woodward, p.235 , Jun 6, 1994

Managed competition, not socialized medicine

Q: In 1965 when Rep. Wilbur Mills (D, AR) was pushing healthcare, the charge against it was it's socialized medicine.

CLINTON: Mr. Bush made that charge. Bush is trying to run against Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter and everybody but me in this race. I have proposed a managed competition plan for health care. You cannot control health care costs simply by cutting Medicare. If you don't control the health care costs of the entire system, you cannot get control of it. Look at our program. We've set up a national ceiling on health care costs tied to inflation and population growth set by health care providers, not by the Government. We provide for managed competition, not Government models, in every State, and we control private and public health care costs.

BUSH: Gov. Clinton failed to take on the malpractice suit people, these frivolous trial lawyers' lawsuits that are running costs of medical care up by $25 billion to $50 billion. He refuses to put any controls on these crazy lawsuits

Source: The First Clinton-Bush-Perot Presidential Debate , Oct 11, 1992

Establish "report cards" on HMO quality of care.

Clinton adopted the manifesto, "A New Agenda for the New Decade":

Promote Universal Access and Quality in Health Care
That more than 40 million Americans lack health insurance is one of our society’s most glaring inequities. Lack of insurance jeopardizes the health of disadvantaged Americans and also imposes high costs on everyone else when the uninsured lack preventive care and get treatment from emergency rooms. Washington provides a tax subsidy for insurance for Americans who get coverage from their employers but offers nothing to workers who don’t have job-based coverage.

Markets alone cannot assure universal access to health coverage. Government should enable all low-income families to buy health insurance. Individuals must take responsibility for insuring themselves and their families whether or not they qualify for public assistance.

Finally, to help promote higher quality in health care for all Americans, we need reliable information on the quality of health care delivered by health plans and providers; a “patient’s bill of rights” that ensures access to medically necessary care; and a system in which private health plans compete on the basis of quality as well as cost.

Source: The Hyde Park Declaration 00-DLC5 on Aug 1, 2000

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Other past presidents on Health Care: Bill Clinton on other issues:
Former Presidents:
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
Bill Clinton(D,1993-2001)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson(D,1963-1969)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Dwight Eisenhower(R,1953-1961)
Harry S Truman(D,1945-1953)

Past Vice Presidents:
V.P.Dick Cheney
V.P.Al Gore
V.P.Dan Quayle
Sen.Bob Dole
V.P.Walter Mondale

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Page last updated: Jul 05, 2014