Remarks to Employees of the Department of Health and Human Services

February 5, 1986

Thank you very much, and I thank you for inviting me here today. It's very good to see all of you. I've tried over the years to make it a point to visit various executive agencies at the beginning of each year to talk about the future, and this is my first trip to HHS. I wanted to wait until my second term because the last two Presidents that visited here in their first term weren't reelected. [Laughter] We've just entered year 6 of an 8-year Presidency, and it's amazing to realize so much time has passed and so much work has been done. It seems like only yesterday that Nancy and I walked into the Executive Mansion for the first time after the 1981 inaugural. But there's so much left to do, so much before us; and that's what I wanted to talk to you about today.

This time of the year always tends to be a summing up time for me. It's been swearing-in time and the new year, every year, and the birthday, the 36th anniversary of my 39th birthday. [Laughter] I always think age is relative. There was once a very famous baseball pitcher, Satchel Paige. And no one quite knew how old Satchel was, but he still was throwing that ball. And somebody asked him about that, and his wise answer was, ``How old would you be if you didn't know how old you were?'' [Laughter] That's how I came up with 39. [Laughter] Well, the late Jack Benny had something to do with that. He was 39 for more than 40 years.

I want to give a special hello once again and a welcome-to-Washington to Dr. Otis R. Bowen. We're thrilled that Doc Bowen agreed to make the sacrifice and leave his beloved Indiana to come here and help us. It won't be an easy job, Doc, but it's a job worth doing. And we thank you for serving your country like this.

Now, of all the executive agencies, it's possible that Health and Human Services is going to have the most challenging year ahead. What you do has such a direct impact on the American family, and it's the family that is at the center of many of our initiatives this year. I've just asked the White House Domestic Policy Council to present to me by the end of the year a total evaluation of all the Federal programs that we have to help poor families. We'll be looking at everything, the financial programs, educational programs, social and the safety concerns of these families. As you know, the current collection of programs designed to assist the needy spends nearly $120 billion a year. But you also know how uncoordinated it's all become with many who are not poor receiving benefits intended for the poor. We're going to look at the entire process in an effort to bolster the family by putting it at the center where it belongs.

We have a lot of major initiatives ahead of us. We're going to move toward a more efficient health care system. And we're going to try to see if we can't help those who become victims of the terrible costs of catastrophic illnesses. Such a problem can deplete the life savings of many Americans, which would destroy the financial security of their families. As you know, I've asked Dr. Bowen to study how the private sector and government can work together on this problem and report to me by the end of the year. We continue to support the concept of prepaid health care. And we will seek legislation that emphasizes competition and broadening the type of health care plans that qualify as alternatives to traditional Medicare coverage. We will encourage private health care providers to develop less costly programs directed at maintaining health rather than treating the illness. And that's just part of what we'll be doing.

Are you tired already? [Laughter] Isn't it wonderful the way I say ``we'' -- [laughter] -- when so much of it's going to be you? [Laughter]

Well, we're going to take a good hard look at the high malpractice insurance premiums that doctors and others have to pay. And we're going to look at the practices that minimize malpractice exposure.

These are just a few of our plans, but I want to mention one more. One of our highest public health priorities is going to continue to be finding a cure for AIDS. We're going to continue to try to develop and test vaccines, and we're going to focus also on prevention. In this regard, I'm asking the Surgeon General to prepare a major report to the American people on AIDS.

Your plate is pretty full. But I know you're up to the job; you always have been. I want you to know that across town in the White House, we're aware of your good work, of how hard you work; and we appreciate it. And I just want you to know, we started a little revolution 5 years ago, and you've been in the trenches ever since. Don't think we don't know it and appreciate it. I want to thank you. You're heroes, and you're serving your country. And be good to Doc Bowen while he's getting his sea legs here. [Laughter]

I can't close without one story about doctors that he will understand very well. Have you ever noticed how easy it is if you're introduced to someone at a party or a dinner or something and he's introduced as doctor, and then there's always those people that suddenly start saying, ``Doctor, I've been having . . .'' Well, we had a fellow in show business, Moss Hart, the playwright, who was an inveterate along that line. And so, one night at a cocktail party in Hollywood he was introduced to a Dr. Jones, and almost immediately he started talking about, ``I've been having this low back pain.'' And the fellow that introduced him said, ``Moss, Dr. Jones is a doctor of economics.'' [Laughter] And that didn't stop Moss at all. He said, ``Doctor, I was buying some stock the other day . . .'' [Laughter]

I just -- well, thanks again. God bless all of you. It's been great to be here.

Note: The President spoke at 2:05 p.m. in the Great Hall at the Hubert H. Humphrey Building. Otis R. Bowen was Secretary of Health and Human Services.