[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[July 7, 1998]
[Pages 1188-1189]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks on Signing the Memorandum on Ensuring Compliance With the Health 
Insurance Portability and Accountability Act
July 7, 1998

    Thank you. Mr. Pomeroy, we're delighted to have you here, along with 
your colleagues, and we appreciate the work you do every day. I want to 
thank all of those who are here with me on this platform who are 
responsible for the action we're taking today and the work we've done on 
health care. And, like the Vice President, I'd like to say a special 
word of appreciation to Senator Kennedy.
    I honestly believe that when the history of the United States 
Congress in the 20th century is written, there will be very few people 
who have exercised as much positive influence to benefit the American 
people, whether they were in the majority or the minority, as Senator 
Kennedy. And this is one of the crowning achievements of his career, and 
I'm very grateful to him for what he's done.
    I have done everything I knew to do to help our country move forward 
to expand health care access and improve health care quality. Yesterday 
I announced an important initiative to help more than 3 million senior 
citizens get assistance in paying their Medicare bills. I have called 
upon Congress to rise above partisanship and join me in ensuring that 
the well-being of the patient will always be our health care system's 
bottom line, whether or not the patient is in a managed care plan or in 
traditional fee-for-service medicine. And in a few moments, I intend to 
take action to strengthen the vital health care protections of the 
Kennedy-Kassebaum law.
    It was nearly 2 years ago that I stood with many of the people in 
this room on the South Lawn to proudly sign that bill into law. It was a 
remarkable achievement, the product of extraordinary dedication by 
Senators Kassebaum Baker and Senator Kennedy and others. It's given 
millions of Americans the chance to change jobs without losing health 
insurance even if they or someone in their family has a so-called pre-
existing condition.
    Unfortunately, reports have shown that some health plans are paying 
no more than lip service to the requirements of the law, delaying or 
denying coverage to eligible Americans. That is unacceptable. It is 
    I will sign an Executive order, at the conclusion of this event, to 
give new teeth to the Kassebaum-Kennedy law and new peace of mind to 
Americans with pre-existing conditions. As the single largest buyer of 
private health insurance, the Federal Government speaks with a very loud 
voice. With that voice, we now put health plans on notice. This 
administration has zero tolerance for actions that undermine these vital 
health care protections. If you violate the letter or the spirit of the 
Kassebaum-Kennedy law, we will, if necessary, terminate your contract to 
provide health insurance to Federal employees. If you say no to people 
with pre-existing conditions, the Federal Government will say no to you.
    I am very pleased that the National Association of Insurance 
Commissioners will join the

[[Page 1189]]

Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Personnel 
Management in these efforts. As the primary enforcers of the Kassebaum-
Kennedy law, the State commissioners play a crucial role, and I thank 
them for their help.
    Now it's Congress' turn also to get involved. We must work together 
in the same spirit of bipartisanship that produced the Kassebaum-Kennedy 
law to enact an enforceable Patients' Bill of Rights. All Americans 
deserve to know that the medical decisions they depend upon are being 
made by medical doctors and not insurance company accountants. All 
Americans have the right to know all their medical options and not just 
the cheapest. All Americans should have the right to choose the 
specialists they want for the care they need. All Americans should have 
the right to emergency room care whenever and wherever they need it. 
Traditional care or managed care, all Americans deserve quality care.
    In February I took executive action to extend this Patients' Bill of 
Rights to all the 85 million Americans who get their health insurance 
through the Federal Government. Now Congress must do so for every 
    Today there are only 37 working days left in this session of 
Congress, but that's no excuse for failing to act, and millions of 
Americans are looking to us for the right kind of action. They want us 
to pass a strong, bipartisan Patients' Bill of Rights. They want us to 
put progress over partisanship. They want us to leave our country 
stronger for the century just ahead. I believe this action today helps 
to achieve that goal, and I thank all of you for your role in it.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 2:20 p.m. in the Grand Foyer at the White 
House. In his remarks, he referred to Glenn Pomeroy, president, National 
Association of Insurance Commissioners. The President also referred to 
the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, Public 
Law 104-191; and his memorandum of February 20 on Federal agency 
compliance with the Patient Bill of Rights (Public Papers of the 
Presidents: William J. Clinton, 1998 Book I (Washington: U.S. Government 
Printing Office, 1999), p. 260).