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Medicare To Cover New Treatment

Elderly and disabled Americans who want to participate in clinical trials of new drugs or medical treatments can now be certain Medicare will help pay the bill, after a change ordered by President Clinton. CBS correspondent John Roberts reports.

As part of his clinical trial at the Sylvester Cancer Center in Miami, Stephen Gauthier must undergo CAT scans to monitor the progress of his recovery from throat cancer surgery.

Medicare would cover only a small portion of his expenses. Had it not been for a research grant, the rest would have come out of Gauthier's pocket.

"It would have taken everything that I had" says Gauthier. "I would have been living day to day."

But with a stroke of his pen, the President changed that today. He ordered Medicare to pay all routine costs for seniors in clinical trials.

"We must help more seniors participate in clinical trials that test new therapies for illnesses, from cancer to heart disease to Alzheimer's," says President Clinton.

In signing the executive order, the President said seniors, should have the same opportunities afforded to younger patients.

SOT John Seffrin/American Cancer Society 0227 "Only about 1 1/2% of people on Medicare now have access to clinical trials," says John Seffrin at the American Cancer Society. "And lives are lost needlessly because of that."

As much as this order gives seniors access to potentially life saving treatments, it may also breathe new life into seniors' support for the Democrats. Since 1992, it has been declining to the point where in the 1998 House elections, a majority of senior women for the first time in recent history voted Republican (52-48%).

"We absolutely have to get senior women back," says Celinda Lake, Democratic pollster. "I think it's impossible for us to win the presidency or take back the House without senior women."

Despite the high stakes, Mr. Clinton denies there is any political consideration given to the timing of today's action. "If I could have gotten it done a month ago, two months ago, six months ago, I would have done that."

It turns out that in fact, the President could have done this a month ago indeed, he could have done it back when he first took office. But since he began investigating this issue years ago, he had been told in error by the agencies responsible that this issue needed to go through Congress.
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