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Remarks by Senator John Kerry Sioux City Senior Center

Location: Sioux City, IA

October  07,  2003
Sioux City, IA

I'm excited to be here in Iowa and at the Sioux City Senior Center.  And I promise not to speak too long because I know that tonight is Bingo Night and I am definitely not going to interfere with that.  The last thing I need is to get on the bad side of "Bingo Bob."

It's special for me to join you because I have a deep respect for the lives so many of you have lived. My dad was a member of the Greatest Generation that achieved victory in World War II.  This was the generation that saved the world from fascism, came home and built the great American middle class, led the way in the civil rights movement, protected our environment, and created great programs like Medicare.

And now that the Greatest Generation is getting older, I think it is the responsibility of all Americans to make sure we do our part for America's seniors.  You have earned the best of America - and we need to make sure you get the protection and health care you deserve.

That's why this week I'm unveiling a new Compact with America's Seniors that will be a building block for the initiatives seniors can count on if I am elected President.  My Compact with America's Seniors says that seniors should be able to count on Medicare and Social Security, on affordable prescription drugs, on quality options for long term care.  You've earned it.

But my Compact with America's Seniors also says that we are going to ask something of our seniors too.  You've given so much to America - but I know many of you still have so much to give.  And in these days after September 11th, America is looking to you again for your patriotism and commitment to citizenship.  I will ask older Americans who can to help in our schools and with reading tutoring.  Your country is counting on you - and you have a lot to offer.

Like so much else in my campaign, my Compact with America's Seniors starts with health care.  Under George Bush, millions of Americans are losing their health care - and many millions more are getting bankrupted as they try to afford rising costs for the health insurance they have. 

This is not just about doctor's offices and ER's.  It is about the bread and butter issues that Americans are dealing with at the kitchen table as they try to pay their bills.  It is hurting our families and our seniors.  It has got to stop.  And I will turn it around to make health care affordable for every American.

Ever since Harry Truman fought for it in the 1940's, health care for all Americans has been a core commitment for our party.  I want this to be the last campaign where Democrats just talk about it - I want to be the President that gets it done.  I intend to be a President who goes to the Oval Office each morning resolved that health care will at long last be available and affordable - a right and not a privilege - for every American.

Today, America has the best health care system in the world. But when it comes to trying to afford their health care, too many Americans are one accident or one illness away from financial ruin.

And one out of every three Americans has gone without health insurance at some point in the last two years - two-thirds of them for six months or more.  One in three Americans.  And counting.  Here in Iowa, more than 230,000 people don't have health care coverage.  On George Bush's watch, more than a million Americans a year are losing their health care, ending progress we made in the 1990s. 

The majority of Americans who do have health insurance now pay costs that are getting harder and harder to bear.  About 40 million Americans a year find they can't pay their medical bills.  Last year saw the biggest premium increases since 1990 - during the first Bush Administration.

Americans with health insurance are staggering under the weight of their health care bills, but their plight has been ignored too often.  They are the unheard majority in this debate - and they need a President who will make sure their voice is finally heard.  It's time to make health care affordable for them - for the uninsured - and for America.

This is not an abstract issue to me.  Early this year, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.  I was cured—because as a United States Senator, I was lucky to have some of the best medical care in the world.  Millions of Americans are not so lucky—and I'm determined to change that.  I propose to give every American access to the same health coverage as a Senator or member of Congress.  And I say to you today: Your family's health is just as important as any politician's in Washington.

If we're going to be serious about making health care affordable, we have to get serious about cutting the cost of prescription drugs.  Prescription drug costs are rising by almost twenty percent a year.  A lot of that is because the big drug companies are gouging seniors and making health care more expensive while their top executives make millions.  I'm not against people who work hard making a living or even getting rich.  But when drug company CEO's are making $40 million a year while the seniors they sell to are choosing between their medicine and their mortgage, that's not free enterprise, that's plain old greed. 
I have a real plan to close the loopholes on drug sales to seniors so that your prescriptions are affordable and there when you need them. 

And we also need a real world, affordable Medicare prescription drug benefit for seniors.  Some of those plans out there benefit drug companies more than seniors.  The plan I support won't force seniors into an HMO, it won't undermine the coverage for seniors that are already getting help today, it'll be run by Medicare instead of an insurance company in search of a buck, and it'll send a real benefit to every senior - no matter whether their costs are average or high.

George Bush has sat on his hands while older Americans have seen their health care costs rise.  And we Democrats have to offer Americans a better choice next November.

But there is a choice in my own party as well.  Democrats will be no better than George W. Bush if we also turn our backs on America's seniors.

We can't balance the budget on the backs of our seniors.  We can't cut programs that help seniors afford the medicine they
need.   And, we can't ignore the problem millions of seniors are facing when they have to choose between buying the food they need and the medicine they need.

As President, I will defend and strengthen fundamental guarantees such as Social Security and Medicare - and I will make prescription drugs affordable for our seniors.  But I also believe in calling on older Americans to contribute to a nation that continues to need all that you have to offer.  My proposal for Older Americans in Service will enlist those who have now
retired - because beyond the jobs you did, you have so much more to give. 

The Greatest Generation has even more to contribute.  And as the Americans who were inspired by John F. Kennedy retire, I believe we should ask them what more they can do for their country.  Today's Americans are living longer and staying healthier into their retirement; we need your experience and their energy - and in return, you will earn money that you can apply to an education grant for a grandchild or other any child you choose. 

You have already done so much for your country.  Here is what you can now do you're  your communities: older Americans can serve as positive role models for our children, signposts of stability in our classrooms, and the world's most patient tutors.  When you are part of schools, students behave better.  When older Americans spend time tutoring, children learn more and learn faster.  And older Americans have the credibility and compassion to help other seniors in ways that no one else can.  Our older Americans are retired, not tired - and America cannot afford to waste your wisdom and vitality.

My Compact with America's Seniors isn't just a set of promises - it is a commitment to an America where we live up to the best of this country.  Where we deliver on what seniors have earned.  Where we balance our rights and our responsibilities. 
Where we treat seniors with enough respect to be up front with them about what we believe and what they can count on.  America's seniors have a lot to offer - and they have a lot they depend on - and they deserve a President who will be there for them every step of the way.

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