Bush Promises Lower Drug Costs, More Care

A bill President Bush signed Saturday will help expand community health centers around the country and will give more Americans quality health care, the president said Saturday during his weekly radio address.

Bush also promised to lower the cost of prescription drugs.

Bush has set a goal of creating 1,200 new and expanded community health centers by 2006. These centers provide prenatal care, checkups and preventative treatments to anyone who walks in the door. They serve an estimated 1 million people, mainly in remote areas and inner-city neighborhoods.

"If Congress funds my budget request for these important health centers, we can help an additional 1 million Americans get health care in 2003, and 4 million more by 2006," Bush said.

Bush also on Saturday signed a bill aimed at providing faster access to safe and effective medical devices such as sophisticated pacemakers. Bush said because the Food and Drug Administration is overwhelmed with the volume of new medical technologies to approve, delays in getting the devices to market are becoming more frequent.

"Under the new law, we’re going to speed up and improve the approval process," Bush said. "The entire nation will benefit from a faster approval of lifesaving innovations."

Under the legislations, companies that make these devices will have to pay a fee to the FDA. The money will go toward hiring more staff to conduct the reviews at the agency within a shortened time frame.

Earlier this week, Bush said he would try to put more reasonably priced generic drugs on store shelves. He said his administration is working to set new limits on how much time it can take to approve generic drugs. He said Saturday that currently, brand name drug companies are using "legal maneuvers" to extend their patents and delay the approval of generic products.

"By reducing the public’s wait for quality generic drugs, we will reduce the cost of prescriptions in this country by more than $3 billion each year," Bush said. "These savings will help employer health plans, state Medicaid programs and seniors who buy medicines on their own."

The new rule, similar to legislation that passed overwhelmingly in the Senate, will limit drug makers to a single 30-month extension of their patents -- provided under the 1984 Hatch-Waxman Act -- rather than allowing drug companies to reapply for copyright status based on minor alterations such as the drug's appearance.

The president rejected the generic drugs bill that had passed the Senate with more than three-quarters' support from the body, saying that it created unacceptable liability provisions.

Patents on several top brand-name drugs, including Zocor, Paxil, Flonase and Cipro, are set to expire in the coming months.

But Bush cautioned Americans that there is still much work to do in the area of health care reform. He congratulated the House for passing a prescription drug benefit bill that will help senior citizens and for trying to fix the medical liability system that spikes the cost of medicine, but he said he is "disappointed" that the Senate has not yet acted on these issues.