1. For more than two decades, our country has debated the issue of how to bring medical care within the financial reach of millions of our elderly citizens. This year, 30 years after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt recommended the pioneer Social Security legislation guaranteeing that our older citizens would not have to spend their declining years in poverty and despondency, you recommended, and the Congress enacted, the great Medicare bill, whose central purpose is to permit our people to pay during their working years for protection against the crushing costs of medical care in their later years.
2. Upon your recommendation, the 89th Congress provided funds for a comprehensive pattern of new health services for our 75 million children—a measure without equal in our time. While the major thrust of this program will bring the boon of medical care to children of families who live in poverty, additional provisions authorize diagnosis and treatment for millions of children of pre-school age and expanded projects for children who are mentally retarded, emotionally disturbed and physically handicapped.
3. In this year now drawing to a close, more than a million productive citizens will lose their gallant battle for life and dignity to three ancient enemies of mankind—heart disease, cancer and stroke. Apart from the indescribable agony which these diseases inflict upon both victims and their loved ones, they constantly sap the vitality of this country, costing an estimated $45 billion a year in direct medical expenses and in losses to our productive economy.
Mr. President, you refused to view the toll of these diseases as an inevitable visitation from an implacable Fate. You shared the faith of the great engineer Charles F. Kettering, who once observed that “no disease is incurable; it only seems so because of the ignorance of man.” You appointed a Presidential Commission to study and come forth with a set of realistic recommendations designed to mount an attack upon these diseases which will claim the lives of two-thirds of all Americans now living unless “you do something about it,” you told the Commission members at their first meeting.
The Commission did something about it and you, Mr. President, took their major findings and transmuted them into legislation—The Cancer, Heart and Stroke Bill.
In signing this monumental legislation a little more than a month ago before an assemblage of some of our country’s greatest doctors whom you had invited to the White House, you thanked them for giving “our people a gift of hope for a long and happy life.”
Mr. President, we would like to turn the tables on you by pointing out that it was you who gave those assembled doctors and thousands and thousands of their colleagues in all parts of the land a precious opportunity to transmit to their sick and suffering patients the latest in medical research knowledge designed to restore them to health and happiness.
4. Above and beyond these achievements, the 89th Congress passed the most sweeping statute in our history to aid in the training of additional medical manpower: It cleared legislation greatly expanding the role of our national government in aiding in the construction of research laboratories. It voted a measure greatly increasing our national participation in the building and operating of a network of community mental health centers designed to replace the desolate human warehouses which have shackled our mentally ill for almost two centuries. It approved a bill which will enable us to restore additional thousands upon thousands of the physically handicapped to a new life as taxpayers, rather than tax-eaters. It authorized an enactment to buttress our medical libraries in all parts of the land, and it endorsed many more bills which we shall not enumerate here.
5. Mr. President, you are not content to rest upon these achievements. When you journeyed to the site of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda—a sleepy Maryland farm only a quarter of a century ago, but now the world’s greatest research center—to sign the Health Research Facilities bill, you reminded your audience that: “Here on this quiet battleground our nation today leads a worldwide war on disease. The experience of the past ten years assures us that that war can be won.”
You have always understood that our democracy will never be complete until every person, rich or poor, high or low, urban or rural, white or black, has an equal right to the finest hospital and medical care whenever and wherever he makes the same grim battle against ever-menacing death which sooner or later we all must make.
6. In pursuit of this noble goal, you recently convened a White House Conference on Health, at which you charged the hundreds of assembled doctors and leading citizens with the task of developing exciting new health goals for the next decade and for the years that are left in this present century.
We glory in your impatience with things as they are, the same impatience which led Ben Franklin in his 74th year to write the following observation to his dear friend and fellow scientist, Joseph Priestley:
“The rapid progress true science now makes, occasions my regretting sometimes that I was born so soon. It is impossible to imagine the height to which may be carried, in a thousand years, the power of man over matter. We may perhaps learn to deprive large masses of their gravity and give them absolute levity, for the sake of easy transport. Agriculture may diminish its labor and double its produce; all diseases may be by sure means prevented or cured, not excepting even that of age, and our lives lengthened at pleasure even beyond the antediluvian standard. O that moral science were in a fair way of improvement, that men would cease to be wolves to one another, and that human beings would at length learn what they now improperly call humanity.”
In saluting you, Mr. President, we know in our hearts that the best part of the story is yet to unfold. We know that in the years to come your magnificent vision and your deep and abiding compassion will lead us to new life-saving victories against the age-old afflictions which claim almost two million precious American lives each year.
We know that children not yet born will one day venerate the name of Lyndon Baines Johnson for leading this God-inspired crusade against needless disability and death.