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Clinton Orders Medicare to Cover Clinical Trials Costs

Aired June 7, 2000 - 8:08 a.m. ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take our viewers right now a couple of blocks away from you to Pennsylvania Avenue, where President Clinton is outside the White House right now.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Talk about a vitally important issue, to the health of America's senior citizens; indeed, eventually, to the health of all of us.

We must help more seniors participate in clinical trials to test new therapies for illnesses, from cancer to heart disease to Alzheimers. These trials may prolong lives, and they are central to finding cures for deadly diseases.

Today, America's seniors are badly underrepresented in clinical trials, yet they bear the heaviest share of illness. More that half of our cancer patients are over 65, but only one-third of those in clinical trials are seniors. For breast cancer, the statistics are even worse.

Today, thousands of important clinical trials don't have enough patients because so few seniors are able to take part, and that means slower progress toward curing or treating illness.

One major factor keeping seniors out of clinical trials is patients' lack of certainty that their expenses will be covered by insurance. Because Medicare's policies on payment for clinical trials have been unclear, seniors can not be sure of coverage if they volunteer for experimental care.

Many assume they'll be saddled with thousands of dollars in routine medical costs if they participate. And they clearly cannot bear such a heavy burden.

For several years, Vice President Gore has led our efforts to clean up the confusion and help seniors and people with disabilities into clinical trials. We've had bipartisan support in Congress, led by Senators Rockefeller and Mack, Congresswoman Johnson and Congressman Bentsen and Congressman Cardin.

Today, after careful study, I'm signing an executive memorandum, directing Medicare to change its policy and remove a major barrier to seniors' participation in these trials.

Within a week, Medicare will begin to cover all the routine medical costs of participation in a clinical trial. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Healthcare Financing Administration will begin outreach programs so that patients, as well as doctors, researchers and administrators all are aware of the change.

We'll ask for the help of advocates for patients in research, who have done so much to publicize this issue. We believe that with good outreach, thousands of seniors could join trials this year and make a dramatic contribution to the progress of medicine, as well at to the health of older Americans.

I am also directing today the Department of Health and Human Services to report back to me on ways we can provide additional support to clinical trials that are especially relevant to senior citizens. And I'm requesting that the National Institutes of Health look for ways we can encourage even more seniors to speed science's progress by participating in the new clinical trials.

As America ages, we must provide all our seniors affordable, quality health care. And we should be using our cutting-edge science to meet that challenge. Simply put, the more seniors we enroll in trials, the faster we'll be able to use these advances to save American lives.

We've done this successfully with cancer in children. For decades now, more than half of all the children with cancer have joined clinical trials, giving us a wealth of evidence about how the disease works and how best to fight it. Now we can cure three- quarters of childhood cancers. That could never have happened without the participation of children in these trials.

We should be doing the same for Americans of every age. Today, I've authorized Medicare to help seniors participate. Private health care plans should be doing the same for their members. But it won't happen, also, unless Congress takes the next step and passes a strong patients' bill of rights.

Congress has had that on its agenda for six months now in the Norwood-Dingell bill, which includes the requirement that every private insurer cover the cost of participation in clinical trials. This month, before the summer recess, congress has a window of opportunity to take another real step to make our country stronger and safer and healthier. I hope that window will be used because we need this.

If we do the Medicare participation and clinical trials and pass the patients' bill of rights, then all our citizens will be able to participate in these trials, and that will hasten the day when all age groups will be more likely to recover from the most serious illnesses.

Thank you very much.

HARRIS: We were listening to President Clinton there making the announcement that he has signed an executive order, requiring the Medicare program to change its policies and actually clarify its policies.

Let's go back now for question and answering sessions right now with the president.

CLINTON: Seven and a half years of activity on this and the fact that it's been well known that I have been working on this issue and so has he for several months now, trying to work through all the legal and administrative issues necessary to get this done.

It's not as if this is just an issue that popped up on the radar screen. We've been working these clinical trial issues alone for years, not only with seniors but with children. This is by no means the first action we've taken in these areas.

And indeed, there has been a strong bipartisan interest in this with all the people involved. I mentioned Senator Connie Mack, Congresswoman Nancy Johnson; they are the two most visible Republicans who have been working on this.

But we've been -- all of us have been working on this for some time now trying to get this done. And if I could have gotten it done a month ago, two months ago, six months ago, I would have done that.

Thank you.

HARRIS: Again, we are seeing President Clinton now fielding questions being tossed to him from the press. He is heading now to Marine One, where he'll be flying off to Andrews Air Force Base to take off to Tokyo.

But he made some comments this morning about his executive order that he has signed requiring Medicare to pay the cost for senior citizens participating in clinical trials. Up to this point, Medicare policies have been unclear, and that has kept many senior citizens from participating in these trials. And that is one of the reasons why progress has been slow in getting research and cures for certain illnesses.

He also said that this directive should take effect within a week, getting more seniors in these trial. And it should also initiate some outreach programs.

The president also used this moment to encourage Congress to take action on the patients' bill of rights Legislation right now before Congress.



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