President Clinton, with holiday reflections on the loss of his mother to breast cancer, outlined Medicare reforms that take effect New Year’s Day to make cancer screenings less expensive for 39 million older Americans.
“Nearly every American family has been touched by the shadow of cancer,” Clinton said Saturday in his weekly radio address. “By detecting cancer early on we offer our loved ones one of the greatest gifts of all - the gifts of life, health and many holidays to come.”
Under the balanced budget agreement negotiated with Congress this year, the nation’s 39 million Medicare beneficiaries will be guaranteed regular tests for breast, cervical and colon-rectal cancer. Studies show that early detection of these cancers can boost survival rates as high as 90 to 100 percent.
The expanded Medicare coverage will kick in Thursday.
“We’re ringing in the new year resolved to take new steps in our battle against cancer, one of mankind’s oldest foes,” Clinton said.
His radio speech, taped before Christmas, was broadcast Saturday morning just before the president retired to the Oval Office for a rainy afternoon of work. Clinton took off Christmas and the day after, lazing about the White House residence in the company of visiting relatives, aides said.
In the broadcast, Clinton mourned the absence of his late mother, Virginia Kelley, whom he telephoned every Sunday evening before she died of breast cancer four years ago Jan. 6.
“Especially at this time of year, I miss her a lot,” Clinton said Saturday.
He highlighted these new Medicare benefits:
No deductible for annual breast X-rays, and the guaranteed option of annual mammograms for all Medicare-eligible women age 40 and older. Previously, Medicare covered only biennial mammograms for some age groups and not at all for others.
Coverage to pay for pap smears and pelvic exams every three years, or annually for women who are at high risk for cervical cancer. Clinton said survival rates for cervical cancer are almost 100 percent when it’s found and treated in the earliest stages.
For the first time, coverage for regular colorectal cancer screenings. Before the new law, Medicare paid for the tests only when patients showed symptoms indicative of cancer in the colon or rectum. Diagnosed early, the cancer can be treated with a 90-percent survival rate, but the rate drops to 7 percent when the cancer is missed until its advanced stage, Clinton said.
As for the long-term viability of the Medicare program, Clinton spoke Saturday of a yet-to-be-seated commission appointed to recommend ways “to ensure that Medicare will serve baby boomers and our children as well as it has served our parents.”
Under the statute that created the commission, the panel was to have been in place by Dec. 1. Clinton and congressional Republicans remain stalemated over naming a chairman.