Thank you very much for being at this meeting and for having this discussion about healthcare in our country. Sheila and I are in cafes around Minnesota all the time, and this is a huge issue to people. Many of the problems have deepened and worsened. There are a number of priorities I have as a senator that one way or another I am going to make happen for this country.
One is humane, affordable, dignified healthcare for every man, woman and child: universal healthcare coverage. We'll have a bill ready very soon and basically we will have a national framework where we will agree that everybody has a decent package of benefits, good coverage, that its affordable, that there is basic consumer protection. And then, we're going to leave it up to different states, with federal grant money for individual states that agree to reach universal coverage as to how they want to do it, whether they want to do what is called single payer or pay or play, it doesn't matter, we'll have different states do it different ways. But we have to, as a national community, have this commitment to universal coverage. I'm really looking forward to taking that legislation around the country and to pushing it hard here in the Congress.
Another priority is a bill with Republican Congressman Jim Ramstad. It's a good joint effort, it's the Substance Abuse Parity Act, which basically says, look, when people are struggling with substance abuse, we ought not to pay for this in a different way than we do with physical illness. We ought to make sure that people get the treatment. I mean, that makes so much more sense. It's the right thing to do, it's cost effective and it's very similar to work I've done with Senator Domenici, a Republican, on Mental Health Parity.
The third area that I want to work in is just to make sure there is basic patient protection. I've had this legislation for three years, now people are starting to come together here now and saying look, these big insurance companies can't just run the show. People can't be denied coverage they need. There has to be due process, there has to be accountability and I'm looking forward to making sure that legislation passes.
And finally, I just want to make sure when we talk about Medicare, we don't weaken Medicare. I'm not interested in abolishing this program, I'm interested in strengthening this program and I know that's very important to senior citizens in Minnesota and around the country, but also to their children in their grandchildren.
These are some of the big priorities, along with continuing to do, I hope, good work in the mental health area and I look forward to working with you because you have all been my advisors because you all have worked closely with Mark Anderson, you've worked closely with me as a senator and I really appreciate it.
March 26, 1998