As part of our comprehensive effort to make drugs more affordable, we are planning to reinvigorate that campaign. We see this not only as a way to improve the nation's health—especially Americans 50+ and Medicare beneficiaries—but also to reduce health-care costs by increasing the appropriate use of generic medications when they are medically appropriate and reducing the incidence of inappropriate drugs being prescribed to people over 50.
As I said at the outset, we are engaging in an all-out effort to lower the high cost of prescription drugs, using advocacy, education, litigation, consumer information and service. We realize that we won't accomplish all of this in 2004, but we're in this for the long haul. Prescription drugs are at the core of modern medicine, and we need to keep working until everyone has access to the medicines they need at prices they can afford.
This is not the only issue on our agenda for 2004. Other issues high on our agenda are:
- Social Security: Social Security's guaranteed, lifetime, inflation-adjusted benefit is the foundation — and most reliable pillar — of a secure retirement. It is currently running a substantial annual surplus, but as the baby boomers become eligible for benefits, these surpluses shrink, and Social Security will experience long-term deficits. Social Security can pay full benefits until 2042, and modest changes implemented in the near future will keep the program financially sound for future generations.
We are devoting our efforts in 2004 to educating people about Social Security and the need for long-term solvency. We're conducting forums around the country—we've already done eight this month—informing people about the issue, what's at stake, and what the options are. We believe that our nation needs to engage in a thoughtful discussion about the full range of options to strengthen Social Security and ensure that it remains the sturdiest pillar of retirement security for future generations. And, that's what our forums are all about.
Our position on Social Security has not changed. We continue to oppose reform proposals that would take money out of Social Security and put it into private accounts. We encourage workers to invest for their retirement in addition to Social Security, not with money carved out of Social Security. Taking money from Social Security only weakens the program financially and requires more dramatic changes in benefits and/or revenues to restore the program's long-term solvency.
- We're also going to expand our efforts related to consumer financial protections in 2004. This includes protecting consumers' pensions, fighting against predatory lenders, strengthening protections against identity theft and advocating mutual fund reform.
I'll be glad to take your questions.