THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release January 4, 2001
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AND THE FIRST LADY
AT WOMEN'S HEALTH EVENT
The East Room
3:15 P.M. EST
MRS. CLINTON: Welcome to the East Room, and happy New Year. It
is wonderful to see so many friends here, gathered to mark the passage of
not only a year, but so much progress on behalf of women and women's
health, and in particular, the Breast and Cervical Act of 2000.
You know, there are a lot of wonderful achievements that we can
look back on over the last eight years. But I don't think anything has
been more rewarding than working with all of you in this room, and so many
others around our country, to put health care and particularly women's and
children's health on the very top of our national agenda, where they now
are and where they must remain. (Applause.)
And there are many people to thank here. I could actually use up
all my time, plus the President's and everyone else's, thanking all of you.
But let me just mention a few people who deserve special mention. Let me
start with the longest serving and best Secretary of HHS, Donna Shalala.
There are many reasons why Donna, in my view, will be recorded in
history as the best Secretary of HHS, but one of those reasons started in
this room eight years ago, when we had the first meeting of the Breast
Cancer Advocates who came to the White House with all of those petitions.
And the President promised -- (applause.) The President promised there
would be a national action plan against breast cancer, and Donna Shalala
was given the responsibility of shepherding that. And we have seen so much
progress because of it. (Applause.)
I also want to thank the Director of OPM, Janice Lachance, who is
here, who has used -- (applause) -- has used the authority given to her to
make the federal government a model employer, especially in the health care
that it provides for its workers. And I was pleased that as of New Year's
Day, mental health parity will be considered part of the federal health
And there are members of Congress who are here who have been such
stalwart supporters of everything that has been achieved. And I
particularly want to thank Louise Slaughter, and Rosa DeLauro, and Sharon
Brown, and Anna Eshoo. (Applause.) You know, there were a lot of
champions for this bill, but nobody started and persisted and continued to
the very end, when we finally got it signed, the way Anna Eshoo did.
And there are other members of Congress who also deserve to be
mentioned: Sue Myrick, Rick Lazio, the late John Chafee, Senators Barbara
Mikulski and Olympia Snowe, and my predecessor, Daniel Patrick Moynihan,
all of whom worked in the Congress to make the Breast and Cervical Cancer
Act the law of the land.
And in a few minutes, we're going to hear from someone who will
share with us her personal story. Tonia Conine came all the way from
Oklahoma City to talk about the difficulty she has faced in affording
treatment for her breast cancer. And for all of us who fought hard to
ensure that no woman, because of economic circumstances, who is diagnosed
with either breast or cervical cancer will again have to make the horrible
choices between foregoing care or accruing massive debt -- we'll know that
our work has really been important because of the story that Tanya will
share with us.
I also want to thank, especially Fran Visco and the National
Breast Cancer Coalition -- (applause) -- and with us, as well, is Dr.
Dileep Bal, representing the American Cancer Society, the National Medical
Association, the NAACP, the Breast Cancer Resources Committee, and everyone
else who has made this great achievement possible.
Now, I know that many of you have heard my story about the first
time I met Fran and the other NBCC members during the 1992 campaign. And
on the way to the meeting that we had scheduled in Williamsburg, the
advocates were on a bus that broke down. And so they ended up hitchhiking.
And some hitched rides with truckers, they climbed into sheriff's cars and,
of course, they all made it to the meeting on time.
I always thought that was a pretty good metaphor for the
determination of all of the survivors and the other advocates in this room
and around the country who have worked tirelessly for themselves, for their
daughters, for their sisters, for their friends, and to improve generally
the health of women and children.
Well, it's paying off, and we have a lot to be grateful for. But
we have a lot of work still ahead of us. There are still too many people
who don't have access to quality health care, and we can't forget that. We
have to keep fighting to make sure that we not only put the dollars into
research that will create the breakthroughs that will be translated into
the treatments. But we have to make sure that those treatments are
affordable and available to everyone who needs them.
It's hard to imagine that this administration is drawing to a
close. And I think sometimes Bill and I are overcome with our memories,
but we have to keep focused on the future, as well. And I want to mention
just a few other of the accomplishments that are represented by the women
here, because those, too, were part of the success of this last Congress,
under the President's leadership.
There are people here today who helped us enact and reauthorize
the Violence Against Women Act. (Applause.) And because of that, we know
there are more women and children who now have a hotline to call, a shelter
to go to, and a judge, a doctor or a police officer who will offer help
when it's needed most.
There are people here who helped us enact and then helped spread
the word on the Children's Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP. And
particularly, I want to thank everyone who was part of the Children's
Health Act of 2000. That was a very important bill that didn't get a lot
of attention when it was passed and signed into law this fall because of
the election -- like so many other things, it didn't really get the
spotlight it deserved. But there are many, many people who are grateful
that you worked so hard on this bill.
Children with autism, fragile X, diabetes, asthma, epilepsy and
other conditions now have more help because of this commitment we have made
to fight diseases that disproportionately affect these people. (Applause.)
I know also many of us in this room have been on the forefront of
the fight to improve reproductive health, and that has often been in the
face of great opposition. From the very first days of this administration,
we have seen what it means to have a pro-choice President and a pro-choice
You know that meant overturning the gag rule on the very first
week in office. It meant historic increases in domestic and international
family planning -- which I have personally seen the benefits of all over
the world. It's meant working to protect women and their doctors from
harassment, intimidation and violence at reproductive health clinics. Now
it up to every single one of us to ensure that we don't turn back the clock
on women's health. We've made a lot of gains, but nothing is written in
concrete, and much of what we have achieved can be undone by legal,
legislative or executive changes. And we will have to be vigilant and work
very hard to make sure that doesn't happen.
I hope that the year ahead will only increase our commitment to
ensuring equity and fairness in health care financing and access to
affordable quality health care, that will pass Louise Slaughter's bill
against genetic discrimination. (Applause.) But we will not be able to
achieve that if we don't ban together and make sure our voices are heard.
I am looking forward to working with people on both sides of the
aisle in both the House and the Senate to make sure that the fight to
improve women's and children's health continues, and I look forward to
working with all of the advocates. Because, to me, the achievements of the
last eight years are best understood not in terms of the dollars that we've
accumulated for research or that we've put into treatment, not even in
terms of the legislative accomplishments like the Breast and Cervical
Cancer Act, but in the stories of individual women who come up to me, or
write me, or talk on a program, and tell the world what it has meant that
all of a sudden their needs and problems were given the attention that they
deserved to have.
And one such women who really does represent so many others is
with us today. I'd like to introduce her to come and share with you the
importance of the commitment you have made, as represented in the passage
of this act and so much else we've done together the last eight years.
Please welcome Tonia Conine. (Applause.)
* * * * *
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first, I think we all should thank Tonia
again for coming all the way from Oklahoma -- where it's been hazardous
even to drive around, if you've been seeing -- (laughter.) Oklahoma and
my native state of Arkansas have been one big icicle for the last several
days. And she came all the way up here to try to make sure that no other
woman ever has to go through what she has. And I think she did a terrific
I'd also like to thank Senator Clinton -- god, what a kick.
(Laughter.) This is the first time I've been able to say that.
(Applause.) I'm still getting used to saying that. I kind of like it, you
know -- who has been such a vital part of all the progress we've made in
women and children's health here in the United States and throughout the
world, and who will continue to lead on these issues in the United States
I thank, as Hillary did, Secretary Shalala for all she has done,
right up until the 11th hour. Just a few days ago, we were announcing our
medical privacy regulations, which I think are profoundly important, and I
thank her. (Applause.)
And as Hillary said, Janice Lachance, at Office of Personnel
Management, has kept us on the forefront of employers, in setting a good
example. And she, in the 11th hour -- even later -- announced that we were
going to have parody for mental health, something that Tipper Gore has
worked so hard for and something that you have made real for the federal
employees and their families. And I thank you for that. (Applause.)
I'd also like to thank someone who never gets mentioned, but has
literally done virtually -- is responsible for virtually everything I have
done on health care for eight years, Mr. Chris Jennings. Thank you, Chris,
wherever you may be. (Applause.) Thank you.
I, too, want to thank our friends, Anna Eshoo, Louise Slaughter,
Sherrod Brown, Rosa DeLauro for joining us today, and for all those who
worked with them on this important legislation and for all the things that
they have tried to do. Hillary mentioned the genetic discrimination law.
I think that's very important. And there's lots of interest arrayed
against Louise and the others who are trying to pass this bill. And I
won't be around to help you, but we've got a better distribution in the
Congress for people who would like to pass that. And I'll say more about
this at the end of my remarks.
But, as I imagine, what we want people to find out about
themselves and their conditions, and what we can do to lengthen life and
improve the quality of life, it's only going to work if we have some
protection against discrimination. When you find out something that you
really need to know, but somebody will use against you , you wind up
having more people in the same shape Tonia was in, if we permit genetic
discrimination. Instead of lengthening life, we're going to cut short work
lives and a lot of other problems if we don't pass it.
So I urge you all to please hang in there with this vast group,
and try to pass a bill against genetic discrimination so that we can move
on to the next chapter of this grand struggle.
Now, mostly what we're here to do today is to mark the progress
that we've made in women's and children's health -- thanks to the dramatic
increase in funding for research and the provision of more health care
options for women and children; thanks to your stand against discrimination
and violence directed at women and for a woman's right to choose. So many
of you advocates for women and children, women's health, breast and
cervical cancer groups, have never stopped fighting since -- certainly
since the day I got here. (Laughter.) I thought I had a lot of energy
until I met all of you. (Laughter.) And you have, on occasion, worn me
But in the bill we come to particularly talk about today, you
have proved once again that when Americans put the people of this country
first, when they look at the human dimensions of a challenge, there are
literally no limits to what we can achieve together. And so again I want
to thank all of you for what you've done and what we'll go on to do.
With regard to breast and cervical cancer, I just wanted to
reemphasize that we know what works -- early detection, prompt treatment,
and a commitment to research until a cure is found. And we have to stay on
all three approaches.
More than 180,000 women will be diagnosed with breast or cervical
cancer this year in the United States. Too many Americans still will lose
a sister, a daughter, a friend or a mother. And too many women will be
unable to pay for health care that will dramatically improve or even save
Everybody who knows anything about this disease knows this delay
can be fatal -- literally. And still, too many uninsured women face a
curious patchwork of care or inadequate care or no care at all. We know
that women who are uninsured -- listen to this -- are 40 percent more
likely to die from breast cancer than women with insurance. I know the
worst licking I took in the last eight years was when I tried to provide
health insurance to everybody. But when I hear a statistic like that, I
still think we need to keep going until everybody's got health insurance.
Now, there's more than one way to do it. The Children's Health
Insurance Program -- when we tried in '94, the budget was in deficit and
the economy was still not fully recovered. We could neither raise the
money, nor require employers to come up with it. That's fundamentally what
happened. We didn't have the economic circumstances to create a
comprehensive network. But the Children's Health Insurance Program, alone,
as it's being implemented, has led us to the first reduction in the number
of people without health insurance in a dozen years. And that's good.
Now, the Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Act, which built on
the previous work we did to provide preventive screenings under Medicare
and to include more women in clinical trials -- both of which were also
quite important for the long run issues -- this allows states to extend
full Medicaid benefits to women who are diagnosed with these cancers, but
don't have insurance. Every year it will help to get prompt and quality
care to thousands who might otherwise not receive care, or be bankrupted by
the cost of it.
Today, we're taking two new steps to help bring down these
barriers earlier. First, we are releasing new guidelines for states to
explain their options under the Breast and Cervical Treatment Act. I don't
want to have the same kind of take-up time with this we had with the
Children's Health Insurance Program. We need to move on this in a hurry,
and you can help with that.
These guidelines will explain how to get federal matching dollars
to fund care. When women are diagnosed with cancer through
federally-funded screening programs, states may now enroll them in Medicaid
right away. Doctors and hospitals may start providing care immediately,
even before the paperwork is processed. It's very important. And we hope
that these guidelines will free more state funds for breast cancer
screening. If all this happens, and it happens in a hurry, we will save a
lot of lives every year. (Applause.)
Second, because we want the federal government to be a model
employer, I'm directing every agency to help every employee have the time
to get checked for cancer and other preventable diseases every year. This
is an important step for everyone, and particularly for women. To take
just one example, for women ages 50 to 69, regular mammograms reduce the
risk of death by breast cancer by 30 percent. From now on, every one of
our 1.8 million federal employees who need it will have up to four hours of
leave available every year for preventive screenings. (Applause.) I hope
this will spur other employers to take similar actions.
With these steps, as well as the Children's Health Act of 2000
that Hillary mentioned, we've built a strong foundation of research and
treatment for those who suffer today, and we've done what we could to
ensure that cancer and other diseases will claim fewer victims tomorrow.
But before I close, I just want to remind you, there's a lot of
work ahead -- a lot. And all the best stuff is still out there. We have
to build on what we have accomplished, and we should not retreat from the
advances we've made in reproductive health and family planning.
We want to see healthy mothers and healthy fathers raising
healthy children in the United States and all across the world. We have to
recognize that we have a unique situation today where we've gone from
record deficits to record surpluses, where we can actually invest in health
care and education and the other things we need to invest in, have an
affordable tax cut, and continue to pay down the debt to keep interest
If anybody doubts the psychological and financial impact of lower
interest rates, all you have to do is look what happened when the Federal
Reserve acted yesterday. (Laughter.) And the government -- those of us in
political life, or those of you, now that I'm leaving -- (laughter) --
you've got to remember that. If you keep the interest rates low, it's a
big old tax cut to everybody, and it keeps the budget in balance, and it
provides the funds necessary to invest in these things.
But let me just say again -- and this is particularly important
to women, because women still have a longer life expectancy than men, and
Americans who live to be 65 have the longest life expectancy of any people
in the world, so we have got to modernize and upgrade Medicare and add a
prescription drug benefit to it. (Applause.)
And another thing I think is very important, we ought to pass
that tax credit for long-term care. More and more people are providing
direct health care to their parents or otherwise having to pay for it. And
this is going to become a bigger issue. Anybody who lives to be 65 in
America today has a life expectancy of nearly 83 years. And it's only
going to go up.
I think it is profoundly important to pass the patients' bill of
rights. (Applause.) If you look at the reaction you had to Tonia today,
and the reaction you had to sort of congratulating yourselves -- as well
you should have -- for the passage of the law that we celebrate, and then
you imagine every other person in this country today who has got some other
kind of cancer or some other kind of health problem, or is going to have an
accident that requires some kind of serious health care, we must rededicate
ourselves now, when we are financially solvent, to the proposition that
we're going to do more to expand health care coverage for the millions of
people who still don't have it. (Applause.) And again, we've learned over
the last six years that if we focus on discrete populations and build
bipartisan support, we can get this done.
And I still believe the biggest numbers out there and the
greatest need are the parents of the children who are in this Children's
Health Insurance Program, because a lot of them are getting their kids
insured now, but they don't have health insurance, and they're not insured
at work, they're working for modest wages. And we can afford to do that.
That would take about -- if we did it right, we'd get rid of about 25
percent of the uninsured population, including those least able to pay.
Then I think we should focus on the people who quit work at 55
and can't get Medicare until 65. And with a tax credit, we can enable them
to buy into Medicare without bankrupting Medicare, without taking down the
trust fund at all -- it's at a 25-year high now. And we'd really be
taking some of the most generally vulnerable populations. So I hope you
will continue to work on that.
And let me just say, looking ahead, we have roughly doubled
spending on medical research in the last six years or so. We have
announced this year the sequencing of the human genome. A little over a
year ago, the two genetic variations that are high predictors of breast
cancer were identified.
Now, what all this means is, first of all, that we're going to be
able to prevent more diseases; secondly, we're going to have quicker
treatment. I am convinced that the development of so-called
nanotechnology, which will enable us to have, for example, computer storage
capacity on things the size of a teardrop that are bigger than
supercomputers today, and will, within a matter of a few years, allow us to
go after cancers when they are only a few cells large. Our idea today
about identifying a cancer early will seem like, within five years,
identifying a cancer in very late stages.
All this is going to change everything for the better. But I
will say again, we had to put these privacy rules out that we put out.
We've got to pass this anti-discrimination legislation, and we have to make
sure that we continue to invest in not only the research, but then the
distribution of the wonders through adequate care coverage.
It won't be long before the average young mother will come home
with a little gene map of their baby. (Laughter.) And some of them will
have really scary things on there, and it will be a burden for some people.
But they will also have a list of things that, if the mothers and fathers
will do these things, the kids will dramatically increase their chances of
living a long, healthy life. And it won't be long until the average mother
will bring home a baby with a life expectancy of 90 years or more. Our
bodies are actually built to last more than 100 years, if we didn't have
all the problems that get in the way along life's way.
But that means we have to reimagine all this. And it means that
the role of citizen lobbyists and citizen activists will become more and
more important, because we are literally just at the beginning of building
the kind of health care system that will be adequate to the 21st century.
And I'm telling you, most of it is going to be really good. But
it's going to change the practice of medicine. It's going to change the
way the health care delivery system is organized. It's going to provide
all kinds of new challenges. And we're going to have to figure out how to
get people who need to know it all this stuff that's out there without
letting somebody else take advantage of them, financially or otherwise.
I can hardly think of a more exciting time in the entire history
of the health sciences. And I believe that in the lifetime of people in
this room, the cure rate for breast and cervical cancer will go through the
roof. The prevention rate will escalate for all kinds of major cancers;
the cure rate for prostate cancer will go through the roof. And once we
get the technology down, when we merge the human genome with the
microtechnology necessary to identify and zap cancers when they're just in
infant stages that are presently unidentifiable, the whole world will be
You can all participate in that. But these decisions do not
happen by accident. People who have other things to think about have to
make decisions about how to allocate public funds for research. People who
are under all different kinds of pressures have to make decisions about
which bills will pass and which won't, in terms of extending coverage. And
you have to enter this fray with the same energy that you brought to this
fight. And just remember, all the best stuff is still out there. Go get
Thank you and God bless you.
3:53 P.M. EST