Text of a Letter from the President to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Majority Leader of the Senate: Prescription Drugs (9/25/00)
                              THE WHITE HOUSE

                       Office of the Press Secretary
                          (Santa Fe, New Mexico)

For Immediate Release                         September 25, 2000


                                 Santa Fe

                            September 25, 2000

Dear Mr. Speaker:   (Dear Mr. Leader:)

In your letter, you outlined a number of health care issues that you
indicated could be resolved before Congress adjourns.
I want to be equally clear about my priorities and hopes for progress this
fall.  As the days dwindle in this session of Congress, I am seriously
concerned about the lack of movement on some of our most important issues.
I am, however, encouraged to learn from your letter that the Republican
leadership is now committed to providing Americans with access to
prescription drugs available at lower cost from other countries.

As you know, our people are growing more and more concerned that the
pharmaceutical industry often sells the same drugs for a much higher price
in the United States than it does in other countries, even when those drugs
are manufactured here at home.  This forces some of our most vulnerable
citizens, including seniors and people with disabilities, to pay the
highest prices for prescription drugs in the world.  This is simply

That is why I support the "Medicine Equity and Drug Safety Act of 2000,"
which the Senate passed by an overwhelming vote of 74 to 21.  This
important legislation would give Americans access to quality medications at
the lower prices paid by citi-zens in other nations.  The Senate bill,
sponsored by Senators Jeffords, Wellstone, Dorgan and others, would allow
wholesalers and pharmacists to import FDA-approved prescription drugs and
would establish a new safety system intended to track these imports and
test them for authenticity and degradation.  Before this provision could
take effect, the Secretary of Health and Human Services would be required
to certify that the regulations would, first, pose no risk to the public
health; and, second, significantly decrease prices paid by consumers.  With
these protections in place and the $23 million necessary to implement them,
this legislation would meet the test that we both believe is crucial --
preserving the safety of America?s drug supply.

Although your letter implies support for legislation similar to the
Senate-passed bill, I am concerned by its statement that seniors would "buy
lower-priced drugs in countries like Canada" [emphasis added].  Of course,
few seniors live near the Canadian or Mexican borders and even fewer can
afford to cross the border in search of lower-price drugs.  Moreover,
policies like the House?s Coburn amendment would strip the FDA of all of
its ability to monitor safety and prevent seniors from buying counterfeit
drugs, putting their health in danger and their finances at risk.

I urge you to send me the Senate legislation -- with full funding -- to let
wholesalers and pharmacists bring affordable prescription drugs to the
neighborhoods where our seniors live.  Though this initiative does not
address seniors? most important need -- meaningful insurance to cover the
costs of expensive medications -- it still has real potential to allow
consumers to access prescription drug discounts.

I remain concerned that with less than one week left in this fiscal year,
Congress has not passed eleven of thirteen appropriations bills; Congress
has not raised the minimum wage; and Congress has not passed a strong,
enforceable patients? bill of rights.  And, according to your letter, the
congressional leadership has given up on passing a meaningful, affordable
and optional Medicare prescription-drug benefit.

I am extremely disappointed by your determination that it is impossible to
pass a voluntary Medicare prescription-drug benefit this year.  I simply
disagree.  There is indeed time to act, and I urge you to use the final
weeks of this Congress to get this important work done.  It is the only way
we can ensure rapid, substantial and much-needed relief from prescription
drug costs for all seniors and people with disabilities, including
low-income beneficiaries.

On the issue of the Medicare lock-box, I have endorsed the Vice President?s
initiative, which has been effectively embodied in Senator Conrad?s
amendment that passed on the Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations
bill.  I am therefore encouraged by your commitment to passing this
legislation; but we must still make all efforts to ensure that the Medicare
payroll taxes in the lockbox are used solely for Medicare.

Similarly, I am pleased to learn of your commitment to pass a
greatly-needed package of Medicare and Medicaid health care provider
payment and beneficiary refinements.  As you know, I proposed such
refinements in my budget and in my June Mid-Session Review.  This includes
payment increases for hospitals, home health agencies, nursing homes and
other providers as well as access to Medicaid for legal immigrants, certain
uninsured women with breast cancer, and children with disabilities;
extended Medicare coverage for people with disabilities; an extension of
the Balanced Budget Act?s diabetes provisions; and full funding for the
Ricky Ray Trust Fund.

Again, I am pleased to learn of your commitment to providing Americans with
access to high-quality, lower cost prescription drugs from other nations.
There is no reason why we cannot work together to pass and enact such
legislation immediately.  As we do, we should not give up on passing both a
workable, affordable and voluntary Medicare prescription-drug benefit for
our nation?s seniors and a meaningful patients? bill of rights for all
Americans.  I will do everything in my power to achieve that end, and I
look forward to meeting with you on these issues as soon as possible.


                              WILLIAM J. CLINTON

cc:  The Honorable Thomas A. Daschle
     The Honorable Richard A. Gephardt

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