Health Insurance Reform Right Now

Hi. Hi. My name is Connie
and I am here to introduce the President on behalf of my
sister Natoma who is sick and can’t be here today. She, like so many Americans,
has long struggled with the cost of health insurance. In 2009, Natoma’s premiums
were increased over 25%. When she learned that in 2010
her premiums would again increase, this time 40%,
she was simply priced out. My sister, a self-employed,
strong woman, was no longer able to
afford health insurance. Frustrated and desperate
for help, on December 29th, Natoma wrote a letter to
President Obama describing her situation and urging
health insurance reform. To her great surprise, the
President not only read and replied to her letter, but also
shared it with a room full of the insurance company CEOs that
were responsible for the steep hike in her premiums. We can’t allow Natoma and
the millions like her to go unnoticed. Make no mistake about it. We need health care reform,
and we do need it now. (applause) We have seen what will
happen without reform; premiums will continue to rise,
insurance companies will not be held accountable for their
abuses and hard working Americans, like my sister
Natoma, will suffer. It is now my honor to introduce
a man who is fighting everyday for health insurance reform that
will lower cost and restore accountability to the system. President Barack Obama. (cheers and applause) President Obama:
Hello, Ohio! (applause) It is good to be here
in the Buckeye State. Congratulations on winning
the Big Ten Championship. (laughter) I’m filling out my brackets now. (laughter) Audience:
O-H-I-O. President Obama:
Yes, that kid Turner
looks pretty good. You guys are doing all right.
It is wonderful to be here — Audience Member:
I love you! President Obama:
I love you back. I do. (applause) Couple of people I just want to
make sure I give special mention to. First of all, you
already saw him, Governor Ted Strickland
in the house. (applause) Ted is fighting every day
to bring jobs and economic development to Ohio. So is your terrific United
States Senator Sherrod Brown. Love Sherrod Brown. (applause) Your own congressman, who is
tireless on behalf of working people, Dennis Kucinich. (applause) Audience Member:
Vote yes! President Obama:
Did you hear that, Dennis?
Go ahead, say that again. Audience Member:
Vote yes! President Obama:
A couple members of Congress are
here: U.S. Representative Betty Sutton. (applause) U.S. Representative Marcia Fudge. (applause) U.S. Representative Tim Ryan. (applause) U.S. Representative Charlie Wilson. (applause) I want to thank Mayor Tom
Perciak here in Strongsville. Please, Mr. Mayor, you’re on. (applause) That’s a good bunch of folks we
got here in Ohio, working hard. Which is why I’m glad to be
back — and let’s face it, it’s nice to be out of
Washington once in a while. (laughter) I want to thank Connie —
I want to thank Connie, who introduced me. I want to thank her and her
family for being here on behalf of her sister, Natoma. I don’t know if everybody
understood that Natoma is in the hospital right now, so
Connie was filling in. It’s not easy to share
such a personal story, when your sister who you
love so much is sick. And so I appreciate Connie being
willing to do so here today, and — (applause) — and I want everybody to
understand that Connie and her sister are the reason
that I’m here today. (applause) See, Connie felt it was
important that her sister’s story be told. But I want to just repeat
what happened here. Last month, I got a letter
from Connie’s sister, Natoma. She’s self-employed, she’s
trying to make ends meet, and for years she’s done
the responsible thing, just like most of you have. She bought insurance — she
didn’t have a big employer who provided her insurance, so she
bought her health insurance through the individual market. And it was important for her to
have insurance because 16 years ago, she was diagnosed with
a treatable form of cancer. And even though she had been
cancer-free for more than a decade, the insurance companies
kept on jacking up her rates, year after year. So she increased her
out-of-pocket expenses. She raised her deductible. She did everything she could to
maintain her health insurance that would be there just
in case she got sick, because she figured, I didn’t
want to be — she didn’t want to be in a position where,
if she did get sick, somebody else would
have to pick up the tab; that she’d have to go
to the emergency room; that the cost would be shifted
onto folks through their higher insurance premiums or hospitals
charging higher rates. So she tried to do
the right thing. And she upped her deductible
last year to the minimum [sic], the highest possible deductible. But despite that, Natoma’s
insurance company raised her premiums by more
than 25 percent. And over the past year, she paid
more than $6,000 in monthly premiums. Audience:
Boo! President Obama:
She paid more than $4,000 in
out-of-pocket medical costs, for co-pays and medical
care and prescriptions. So all together, this woman
paid $10,000 — one year. But because she never
hit her deductible, her insurance company only
spent $900 on her care. So the insurance company is
making — getting $10,000; paying out $900. Now, what comes in the mail
at the end of last year? Audience Member:
A bill! Audience Member:
A rate hike! President Obama:
It’s a letter telling Natoma
that her premiums would go up again by more than 40 percent. Audience:
Boo! President Obama:
So here’s what happens. She just couldn’t afford it.
She didn’t have the money. She realized that if she paid
those health insurance premiums that had been jacked
up by 40 percent, she couldn’t make her mortgage. And despite her desire
to keep her coverage, despite her fears that she would
get sick and lose the home that her parents built —
she finally surrendered, she finally gave up
her health insurance. She stopped paying it — she
couldn’t make ends meet. So January was her last
month of being insured. Like so many responsible
Americans — folks who work hard every day, who try to do the
right thing — she was forced to hang her fortunes on chance. To take a chance,
that’s all she could do. She hoped against hope that
she would stay healthy. She feared terribly that
she might not stay healthy. That was the letter that I read
to the insurance companies, including the person responsible
for raising her rates. Now, I understand Natoma was
pretty surprised when she found out that I had read
it to these CEOs. But I thought it was important
for them to understand the human dimensions of this problem. Her rates have been hiked
more than 40 percent. And this was less
than two weeks ago. Unfortunately, Natoma’s
worst fears were realized. And just last week, she was
working on a nearby farm, walking outside — apparently,
chasing after a cow — (laughter) — when she collapsed. And she was rushed
to the hospital. She was very sick. She needed two
blood transfusions. Doctors performed
a battery of tests. And on Saturday, Natoma was
diagnosed with leukemia. Now, the reason Natoma is not
here today is that she’s lying on a hospital bed, suddenly
faced with this emergency — suddenly faced with
the fight of her life. She expects to face more than
a month of aggressive chemotherapy. She is racked with worry not
only about her illness but about the costs of the tests and the
treatment that she’s surely going to need to beat it. So you want to know
why I’m here, Ohio? I’m here because of Natoma. (applause) I’m here because of the
countless others who have been forced to face the most
terrifying challenges in their lives with the added burden of
medical bills they can’t pay. I don’t think that’s right. (applause) Neither do you. That’s why we need health
insurance right now. Health insurance
reform right now. (applause) Audience:
Obama! Obama! Obama! Obama! President Obama:
I’m here because of
my own mother’s story. She died of cancer, and in the
last six months of her life, she was on the phone in her
hospital room arguing with insurance companies instead of
focusing on getting well and spending time with her family. I’m here because of the millions
who are denied coverage because of preexisting conditions
or dropped from coverage when they get sick. (applause) I’m here because of the small
businesses who are forced to choose between health
care and hiring. (applause) I’m here because of the
seniors unable to afford the prescriptions that they need. (applause) I’m here because of the folks
seeing their premiums go up 20 and 30 and 40 and 50 and
60 percent in a year. (applause) Ohio, I am here because that is
not the America I believe in and that’s not the America
that you believe in. Audience Member:
What’s your plan? President Obama:
So when you hear
people say “start over” — Audience:
No!! President Obama:
— I want you to
think about Natoma. When you hear people saying that
this isn’t the “right time,” you think about what
she’s going through. When you hear people
talk about, well, what does this mean
for the Democrats? What does this mean
for the Republicans? I don’t know how
the polls are doing. When you hear people more
worried about the politics of it than what’s right
and what’s wrong, I want you to think about Natoma
and the millions of people all across this country who
are looking for some help, and looking for some relief. That’s why we need health
insurance reform right now. (applause) Part of what makes this issue
difficult is most of us do have health insurance, we still do. And so — and so we kind of
feel like, well, I don’t know, it’s kind of working for me;
I’m not worrying too much. But what we have to understand
is that what’s happened to Natoma, there but for the
grace of God go any one of us. (applause) Anybody here, if you lost your
job right now and after the COBRA ran out — (audience member faints) President Obama:
It looks like we’ve got
somebody who might’ve fainted down there, so
if we’ve got a medic. No, no, no. Hold on. I’m talking about there’s
somebody who might’ve fainted right down here, so if we can
get a medic just back here. They’re probably okay. Just give her or him some space. Audience Member:
Hope you have insurance. (laughter) President Obama:
So let’s just think
about — think about if you lost your job right now. How many people here might have
had a preexisting condition that would mean it’d be very hard
to get health insurance on the individual market? Think about if you
wanted to change jobs. Think about if you wanted to
start your own business but you suddenly had to give up your
health insurance on your job. Think about what happens if a
child of yours, heaven forbid, got diagnosed with something
that made it hard for them to insure. For so many people, it may not
be a problem right now but it’s going to be a problem
later, at any point. And even if you’ve got
good health insurance, what’s happening
to your premiums? What’s happening to
your co-payments? What’s happening
to your deductible? They’re all going up. That’s money straight
out of your pocket. So the bottom line is this: The
status quo on health care is simply unsustainable. (applause) We can’t have — we can’t have a
system that works better for the insurance companies than it
does for the American people. (applause) And we know what will
happen if we fail to act. We know that our government will
be plunged deeper into debt. We know that millions more
people will lose their coverage. We know that rising costs will
saddle millions more families with unaffordable expenses. And a lot of small businesses
are just going to drop their coverage altogether. That’s already what’s
been happening. A study came out just yesterday
— this is a nonpartisan study — it’s found that
without reform, premiums could more than double
for individuals and families over the next decade. Family policies could go to an
average of $25,000 or more. Can you afford that? Audience:
No! President Obama:
You think your employer
can afford that? Audience:
No! President Obama:
Your employer
can’t sustain that. So what’s going to happen is,
they’re basically — more and more of them are just going
to say, you know what? You’re on your own on this. We have debated this issue
now for more than a year. Every proposal has
been put on the table. Every argument has been made. I know a lot of people view this
as a partisan issue, but, look, the fact is both parties have a
lot of areas where we agree — it’s just politics are getting in
the way of actually getting it done. (applause) Somebody asked what’s our plan. Let me describe exactly
what we’re doing, because we’ve ended up with a
proposal that incorporates the best ideas from Democrats
and Republicans, even though Republicans
don’t give us any credit. (laughter) That’s all right. You know, if you think about
the debate around health care reform, there were some who
wanted to scrap the system of private insurance and replace
it with government-run care. And, look, that works
in a number of places, but I did not see that being
practical to help right away for people who really need it. And on the other
end of the spectrum, and this is what a lot of the
Republicans are saying right now, there are those who simply
believe that the answer is to unleash the insurance industry,
to deregulate them further, provide them less
oversight and fewer rules. Audience:
Boo! President Obama:
This is called the
fox-guarding-the-henhouse approach to health
insurance reform. (laughter) So what it would do is it would
give insurance companies more leeway to raise premiums,
more leeway to deny care. It would segment
the market further. It would be good if you
were rich and healthy. You’d save money. But if you’re an ordinary
person, if you get older, if you get a little sicker,
you’d be paying more. Now, I don’t believe we should
give the government or insurance companies more control over
health care in America. I believe it’s time to give
you, the American people, more control over your
own health insurance. (applause) And that’s what
our proposal does. Our proposal builds on the
current system where most Americans get their health
insurance from their employer. So if you like your plan,
you can keep your plan. If you like your doctor,
you can keep your doctor. I don’t want to interfere with
people’s relationships between them and their doctors. Essentially, here’s what my
proposal would change: three things about the current
health care system, but three important things. Number one, it would end the worst
practices of the insurance companies. (applause) All right? This is like a patient’s
bill of rights on steroids. (laughter) Within the first year of
signing health care reform, thousands of uninsured Americans
with preexisting conditions will be able to purchase health
insurance for the first time in their lives or the first
time since they got sick. (applause) This year, insurance companies
will be banned forever from denying coverage to children
with preexisting conditions. So parents can have a
little bit of security. (applause) This year, under
this legislation, insurance companies will be
banned from dropping your coverage when you get sick.
Those practices would end. (applause) With this reform package, all
new insurance plans would be required to offer free
preventive care to their customers starting this year
— so free check-ups to catch preventable diseases
on the front end. That’s a smart thing to do. (applause) Starting this year,
if you buy a new plan, there won’t be lifetime or
restrictive annual limits on the amount of care you receive
from your insurance companies, so you won’t be surprised by the
fine print that says suddenly they’ve stopped paying and
you now suddenly are $50,000 or $100,000 or
$200,000 out of pocket. That won’t — that will not happen
if this becomes law this year. (applause) I see — I see some young
people in the audience. (applause) If you’re an
uninsured young adult, you will be able to stay on your
parents’ policy until you’re 26 years old under this law. (applause) So number one — number
one is insurance reform. The second thing that this plan
would change about the current system is this: For the first
time, uninsured individuals, small businesses, they’d have
the same kind of choice of private health insurance that members
of Congress get for themselves. (applause) Understand if this
reform becomes law, members of Congress, they’ll be
getting their insurance from the same place that the
uninsured get theirs, because if it’s good enough
for the American people, it’s good enough for the people
who send us to Washington. (applause) So basically what
would happen is, we’d set up a pool of people;
millions of people across the country would all buy into
these pools that give them more negotiating power. If you work for a big company,
you’ve got a better insurance deal because you’ve got more
bargaining power as a whole. We want you to have all the
bargaining power that the federal employees have,
that big companies have, so you’ll be able to buy in or a
small business will be able to buy into this pool. And that will lower
rates, it’s estimated, by up to 14 to 20 percent over
what you’re currently getting. That’s money out of pocket. And what my proposal says is
if you still can’t afford the insurance in this
new marketplace, then we’re going to offer
you tax credits to do so. And that will add up to the
largest middle-class tax cut for health care in history. That’s what we’re going to do. (applause) Now, when I was talking about
this at that health care summit, some of you saw it — I sat
there for about seven hours; I know you guys watched
the whole thing. (laughter) But some of these
folks said, well, we just — that’s a nice idea but
we just can’t afford to do that. Look, I want everybody to
understand — the wealthiest among us can already buy the
best insurance there is. The least well among us,
the poorest among us, they get their health
care through Medicaid. So it’s the middle class, it’s
working people that are getting squeezed, and that’s
who we have to help, and we can afford to do it. (applause) Now, it is true that providing
these tax credits to middle class families and
small businesses, that’s going to cost some money. It’s going to cost about
$100 billion per year. But most of this comes from the
nearly $2.5 trillion a year that Americans already
spend on health care. It’s just right now, a lot of
that money is being spent badly. So with this plan, we’re going
to make sure the dollars we make — the dollars that we spend on
health care are going to make insurance more affordable
and more secure. And we’re going to eliminate
wasteful taxpayer subsidies that currently go to
insurance company. Insurance companies are making
billions of dollars on subsidies from you, the taxpayer. And if we take those
subsidies away, we can use them to help folks
like Natoma get health insurance so she doesn’t lose her house. (applause) And, yes, we will set a new fee
on insurance companies because they stand to gain millions
more customers who are buying insurance. There’s nothing wrong with
them giving something back. But here’s the bottom line: Our
proposal is paid for — which, by the way, is more than can be
said for our colleagues on the other side of the aisle
when they passed that big prescription drug plan that cost
about as much as my health care plan and they didn’t pay for any of it
and it went straight to the deficit. And now they’re up there on
their high horse talking about, well, we don’t want
to expand the deficit. This plan doesn’t
expand the deficit. Their plan expanded the deficit. That’s why we pay
for what we do. That’s the responsible
thing to do. (applause) Now, so let me talk
about the third thing, which is my proposal would bring
down the cost of health care for families, for businesses, and
for the federal government. So Americans buying comparable
coverage to what they have today — I already said this — would
see premiums fall by 14 to 20 percent — that’s
not my numbers, that’s what the nonpartisan
Congressional Budget Office says — for Americans who get their
insurance through the workplace. How many people are
getting insurance through their jobs right now? Raise your hands. All right. Well, a lot of those folks, your
employer it’s estimated would see premiums fall by as
much as 3,000 percent [sic], which means they could
give you a raise. (applause) We have incorporated most of the
serious ideas from across the political spectrum about
how to contain the rising costs of health care. We go after waste and
abuse in the system, especially in Medicare. Our cost-cutting measures would
reduce most people’s premiums and bring down our deficit by up
to a trillion dollars over the next two decades. Those aren’t my numbers. Those are the numbers determined
by the Congressional Budget Office. They’re the referee. That’s what they
say, not what I say. Now, the opponents of reform,
they’ve tried to make a lot of different arguments
to stop these changes. You remember. First, they said, well, there’s
a government takeover of health care. Well, that wasn’t true.
Well, that wasn’t true. Then they said, well,
what about death panels? Well, that turned out — that
didn’t turn out to be true. You know, the most insidious
argument they’re making is the idea that somehow this
would hurt Medicare. I know we’ve got some seniors
here with us today — I couldn’t tell; you guys look great. (laughter) I wouldn’t have guessed. But want to tell you directly:
This proposal adds almost a decade of solvency to Medicare. (applause) This proposal would close
the gap in prescription drug coverage, called the doughnut
hole — you know something about that — that sticks seniors with
thousands of dollars in drug costs. This proposal will over time
help to reduce the costs of Medicare that you
pay every month. This proposal would make
preventive care free so you don’t have to pay out-of-pocket
for tests to keep you healthy. (applause) So yes, we’re going after
the waste, the fraud, the abuse in Medicare. We are eliminating some of the
insurance subsidies that should be going to your care. That’s because these dollars
should be spent on care for seniors, not on the care and
feeding of the insurance companies through
sweetheart deals. And every senior should know
there is no cutting of your guaranteed Medicare benefits.
Period. No “ifs,” “ands,” or “buts.” (applause) This proposal makes
Medicare stronger, it makes the coverage better,
and it makes the finances more secure. And anybody who says otherwise
is either misinformed — or they’re trying to misinform you. Don’t let them hoodwink you.
They’re trying to hoodwink you. (laughter) So, look, Ohio,
that’s the proposal. And I believe Congress owes
the American people a final up or down vote. (applause) We need an up or down
vote. It’s time to vote. And now as we get
closer to the vote, there is a lot of
hand-wringing going on. We hear a lot of people in
Washington talking about politics, talking about what
this means in November, talking about the poll numbers
for Democrats and Republicans. Audience Member:
We need courage! President Obama:
We need courage. (applause) Did you hear what
somebody just said? (applause) That’s what we need. That’s why
I came here today. We need courage. (applause) We need courage. You know, in the end, this
debate is about far more than politics. It comes down to what kind
of country do we want to be. It’s about the millions of lives
that would be touched and, in some cases, saved, by making
health insurance more secure and more affordable. (applause) It’s about a woman who’s lying
in a hospital bed who just wants to be able to pay for
the care she needs. And the truth is, what’s
at stake in this debate, it’s not just our ability
to solve this problem; it’s about our ability
to solve any problem. I was talking to Dennis Kucinich
on the way over here about this. I said, you know what? It’s been such a long time since
we made government on the side of ordinary working folks — (applause) — where we did something for
them that relieved some of their struggles; that made folks who
work hard every day and are doing the right thing and who
are looking out for the families and contributing to
their communities, that just gave them a little bit
of a better chance to live out their American Dream. The American people want to
know if it’s still possible for Washington to look out for these
interests, for their future. So what they’re looking
for is some courage. They’re waiting for us to act.
They’re waiting for us to lead. They don’t want us putting
our finger out to the wind. They don’t want
us reading polls. They want us to look and see
what is the best thing for America, and then
do what’s right. (applause) And as long as I
hold this office, I intend to provide
that leadership. And I know these members of
Congress are going to provide that leadership. I don’t know about the politics,
but I know what’s the right thing to do. And so I’m calling on Congress
to pass these reforms — and I’m going to sign them into law. I want some courage. I want us to do the
right thing, Ohio. And with your help, we’re
going to make it happen. God bless you, and God bless
the United States of America. (applause)

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