WASHINGTON — First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday pledged increased White House support for basic biomedical research, saying that the work of medical scientists goes hand-in-hand with health care reform.
The benefits of medical research could be spread to a greater number of Americans through reforms in the health care system, the First Lady said in a speech to researchers at the National Institutes of Health.
"Health security not only means guaranteeing comprehensive benefits throughout a person's life, it also means emphasizing early diagnosis and prevention of diseases," she said.
In a slap at the past two Republican administrations, she complained that biomedical research has been "neglected and underfunded and even unappreciated" for much of the past decade. Those conditions will be rectified by passage of President Clinton's 1995 budget and the Administration's health care reform plan, she predicted.
"The work of scientists is more important than ever," she said. "Without basic biomedical research, we never would have achieved the quality of health care that most Americans enjoy."
Despite an overall freeze on most domestic spending, the President's 1995 budget has proposed a 4.7% funding increase for the NIH, or $517 million, "most of it for basic research," the First Lady said.
She listed several promising areas of biomedical research that could benefit from the added funds, including AIDS, breast cancer and the Human Genome Project, an ambitious NIH program that is attempting to map all the genes in the body.
Before her speech, Clinton met with the NIH's leading scientists--who briefed her on their various programs. She also met with several AIDS patients, including three children.
She also met with Ashanti DeSilva, a 7-year-old Ohio girl, who three years ago was one of the first patients in the world to receive pioneering gene therapy--a treatment that essentially repairs or replaces a defective gene--to cure a rare immune disorder called inherited severe immune deficiency disease.
"Before her treatment, her life was one of confinement and fear," the First Lady said in her speech. "Today she is living a full life."
At the White House on Thursday, the President continued his efforts to build support among the elderly for his health care reform proposals by meeting with leaders of senior citizens organizations.
The brunch session, following his speech Wednesday to 2,000 elderly citizens in New Jersey, was part of a White House strategy to gain the backing of the nation's influential senior citizens lobby.
Officials from a dozen groups left the meeting promising to work on behalf of the Clinton reform plan, although the White House failed to get the endorsement of the powerful American Assn. of Retired People.
Horace Deets, AARP's executive director, said that among competing health care proposals, Clinton's has the greatest chance of passage and addresses two of his group's minimum demands: prescription-drug coverage and expanded long-term care. But Deets said the AARP membership needs more education about the Clinton proposal before the group could make any recommendation.