Home / News Briefs / Obama Hits the Road for Health Reform; Calls for Immediate Vote by Congress

Obama Hits the Road for Health Reform; Calls for Immediate Vote by Congress

IMG_3817Glenside, PA — President Obama came to suburban Philadelphia Monday to rally for healthcare reform.  In a speech designed to fire up the crowd of 2,000 at Arcadia University, Obama gave a campaign-like address to garner support for his most recent proposal for health reform and to encourage the public to call on their legislators for an immediate up/down vote.

The details of the plan had been previously discussed and published in great detail.  That wasn’t the purpose of this visit.  This town-hall/rock concert atmosphere was intended to get Obama back to his strength of generating support by getting on stage and playing to his base of voters.  For this speech, the president simplified his proposal to three main areas:

1) Reform the insurance industry.  “We can’t have a system that works better for the insurance companies than for the American people,” said Obama.  The president reiterated previously discussed ideas including no bans on preexisting conditions, free preventative care, and no restrictive annual limits on care.

2) Offer choices to the consumer.  Obama wants to give everyone the same opportunity to have coverage as strong as those in Congress.  “If it’s good enough for Congress,” he said, “it should be good enough for the people paying Congress its salary.”

3) Reduce costs, including subsidies for the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

As for any discussion of how his plan may benefit health care workers and providers, there were few details.  The only mention of the subject was in this exchange: “So the bottom line is this:  Our proposal is paid for.  All the new money generated in this plan goes back to small business owners and individuals in the middle class who right now are having trouble getting insurance.  It would lower prescription drug prices for seniors. It would help train new doctors and nurses to provide care for American families and physicians assistants and therapists.”

Obama called for an immediate up or down vote by Congress and ended the speech to huge applause by saying “Let’s seize reform — it’s within our grasp.”

Following is the full text of today’s speech:

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

ON HEALTH INSURANCE REFORM

Arcadia University

Glenside, Pennsylvania

11:23 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, Pennsylvania!  (Applause.)  Thank you.
Thank you very much.  Thank you.  This is a nice crowd.  (Applause.)
Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Well, what a wonderful crowd.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  I love you!

THE PRESIDENT:  Love you back.  (Applause.)  I am — I’m kind of
fired up.  (Applause.)  I’m kind of fired up.  (Applause.)  So, listen,
we — this is just an extraordinary crowd and I —

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you!

THE PRESIDENT:  I love you back.  (Applause.)  I want — there’s
some people I want to point out who are here who’ve just been doing
great work.  First of all, give Leslie a great round of applause for her
wonderful introduction.  (Applause.)

Somebody who’s been working tirelessly on your behalf, doing a great job
— the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius is in
the house.  (Applause.)  One of the finest governors in the country, Ed
Rendell is in the house.  (Applause.)  Everybody notice how good Ed is
looking, by the way? He’s been on that training program, eating egg
whites and keeping his cholesterol down.  (Laughter.)

Your senior senator who has just been doing outstanding work in the
Senate, Arlen Specter is in the house.  (Applause.)  One of my great
friends, somebody who supported me when nobody could pronounce my name,
Bob Casey is in the house.  (Applause.)  Your congressman, the person
who gave me confidence that I could win even though nobody could
pronounce my name — Chaka Fattah is in the house.  (Applause.)  I
figured if they could elect a “Chaka” — (laughter) — then they could
elect a “Barack.”  (Laughter.)

A couple other outstanding members of Congress — first of all, from
Pennsylvania, Allyson Schwartz is in the house.  (Applause.)  Somebody
who rendered outstanding service to our nation before he was in
Congress, Joe Sestak is in the house.  (Applause.)  One of the sharpest
members of Congress — technically not his state but he’s just from
right next door, New Jersey, so he’s practically — (applause.)  See,
we’ve got some Jersey folks here.  (Applause.)  Rob Andrews is in the
house.  (Applause.)  And the great mayor of Philadelphia, Mike Nutter.
(Applause.)

It’s a little hot, I think.  (Applause.)  And to Arcadia University —
(applause) — thank you, thank you guys for hosting us.  (Applause.)

I was asking about that castle on the way in, by the way.  (Applause.)
That’s a — I thought the White House was pretty nice, but that castle,
that’s — (laughter.)

Well, it is great to be back here in the Keystone State.  It’s even
better to be out of Washington, D.C.  (Laughter.)  First of all, the
people of D.C. are wonderful.  They’re nice people, they’re good people;
love the city, the monuments, everything.  But when you’re in
Washington, folks respond to every issue, every decision, every debate,
no matter how important it is, with the same question:  What does this
mean for the next election?  (Laughter.)  What does it mean for your
poll numbers?  Is this good for the Democrats or good for the
Republicans?  Who won the news cycle?

That’s just how Washington is.  They can’t help it.  They’re obsessed
with the sport of politics.  And so that’s the environment in which
elected officials are operating.  And you’ve seen all the pundits
pontificating and talking over each other on the cable shows, and
they’re yelling and shouting.  They can’t help themselves.  That’s what
they do.

But out here, and all across America, folks are worried about bigger
things.  They’re worried about how to make payroll. They’re worried
about how to make ends meet.  They’re worried about what the future will
hold for their families and for our country.  They’re not worrying about
the next election.  We just had an election.  (Applause.)  They’re
worried about the next paycheck, or the next tuition payment that’s due.
(Applause.) They’re thinking about retirement.

You want people in Washington to spend a little less time worrying about
our jobs, a little more time worrying about your jobs.  (Applause.)

Despite all the challenges we face — two wars, the aftermath of a
terrible recession — I want to tell everybody here today I am
absolutely confident that America will prevail; that we will shape our
destiny as past generations have done.  (Applause.)  That’s who we are.
We don’t give up.  We don’t quit.  Sometimes we take our lumps, but we
just keep on going.  That’s who we are.  But that only happens when
we’re meeting our challenges squarely and honestly.  And I have to tell
you, that’s why we are fighting so hard to deal with the health care
crisis in this country; health care costs that are growing every single
day.

I want to spend some time talking about this.  The price of health care
is one of the most punishing costs for families and for businesses and
for our government.  (Applause.)  It’s forcing people to cut back or go
without health insurance.  It forces small businesses to choose between
hiring or health care.  It’s plunging the federal government deeper and
deeper and deeper into debt.

The young people who are here, you’ve heard stories — some of you guys
still have health care while you’re in school, some of you may still be
on your parents’ plans, but some of the highest uninsurance rates are
among young people.  And it’s getting harder and harder to find a job
that’s going to provide you with health care.  And a lot of you right
now feel like you’re invincible so you don’t worry about it.
(Laughter.)  But let me tell you, when you hit 48 — (laughter) — you
start realizing, things start breaking down a little bit.  (Laughter.)

And the insurance companies continue to ration health care based on
who’s sick and who’s healthy; on who can pay and who can’t pay.  That’s
the status quo in America, and it is a status quo that is unsustainable
for this country.  We can’t have a system that works better for the
insurance companies than it does for the American people.  (Applause.)
We need to give families and businesses more control over their own
health insurance. And that’s why we need to pass health care reform —
not next year, not five years from now, not 10 years from now, but now.
(Applause.)

Now, since we took this issue on a year ago, there have been plenty
of folks in Washington who’ve said that the politics is just too hard.
They’ve warned us we may not win.  They’ve argued now is not the time
for reform.  It’s going to hurt your poll numbers.  How is it going to
affect Democrats in November?  Don’t do it now.

My question to them is:  When is the right time?  (Applause.)  If not
now, when?  If not us, who?

Think about it.  We’ve been talking about health care for nearly a
century.  I’m reading a biography of Teddy Roosevelt right now.  He was
talking about it.  Teddy Roosevelt.  We have failed to meet this
challenge during periods of prosperity and also during periods of
decline.  Some people say, well, don’t do it right now because the
economy is weak.  When the economy was strong, we didn’t do it.  We’ve
talked about it during Democratic administrations and Republican
administrations.  I got all my Republican colleagues out there saying,
well, no, no, no, we want to focus on things like cost.  You had 10
years.  What happened? What were you doing?  (Applause.)

Every year, the problem gets worse.  Every year, insurance companies
deny more people coverage because they’ve got preexisting conditions.
Every year, they drop more people’s coverage when they get sick right
when they need it most.  Every year, they raise premiums higher and
higher and higher.

Just last month, Anthem Blue Cross in California tried to jack up rates
by nearly 40 percent — 40 percent.  Anybody’s paycheck gone up 40
percent?

AUDIENCE:  Nooo —

THE PRESIDENT:  I mean, why is it that we think this is normal?  In my
home state of Illinois, rates are going up by as much as 60 percent.
You just heard Leslie, who was hit with more than a hundred percent
increase — 100 percent.  One letter from her insurance company and her
premiums doubled.  Just like that. And because so many of these markets
are so concentrated, it’s not like you can go shopping.  You’re stuck.
So you’ve got a choice:  Either no health insurance, in which case
you’re taking a chance if somebody in your family gets sick that you
will go bankrupt and lose your home and lose everything you’ve had — or
you keep on ponying up money that you can’t afford.

See, these insurance companies have made a calculation.  Listen to this.
The other day, there was a conference call that was organized by Goldman
Sachs.  You know Goldman Sachs.  You’ve been hearing about them, right?
(Laughter.)  So they organized a conference call in which an insurance
broker was telling Wall Street investors how he expected things to be
playing out over the next several years, and this broker said that
insurance companies know they will lose customers if they keep on
raising premiums, but because there’s so little competition in the
insurance industry, they’re okay with people being priced out of the
insurance market because, first of all, a lot of folks are going to be
stuck, and even if some people drop out, they’ll still make more money
by raising premiums on customers that they keep.

And they will keep on doing this for as long as they can get away with
it.  This is no secret.  They’re telling their investors this:  We are
in the money; we are going to keep on making big profits even though a
lot of folks are going to be put under hardship.

So how much higher do premiums have to rise until we do something about
it?  How many more Americans have to lose their health insurance?  How
many more businesses have to drop coverage?  All those young people out
here, after you graduate you’re going to be looking for a job.  Think
about the environment that’s going to be out there when a whole bunch of
potential employers just tell you, you know what, we just can’t afford
it.  Or, you know what, we’re going to have to take thousands of dollars
out of your paycheck because the insurance company just jacked up our
rates.

How many years — how many more years can the federal budget handle the
crushing costs of Medicare and Medicaid?  That’s the debt you’re going
to have to pay, young people.  When is the right time for health
insurance reform?

AUDIENCE:  Now!

THE PRESIDENT:  Is it a year from now or two years from now or five
years from now or 10 years from now?

AUDIENCE:  No!

THE PRESIDENT:  I think it’s right now.  And that’s why you’re here
today.  (Applause.)

Leslie is a single mom — just like my mom was a single mom — trying to
put her daughter through college.  She knows that the time for reform is
now.

Natoma Canfield — self-employed cancer survivor from Ohio  — she wrote
us a letter.  Last year her insurance company charged her over $6,000 in
premiums; paid about $900 worth of care.  Now they’ve decided to jack up
her rates 40 percent next year.  So she’s had to drop her insurance,
even though it may cost her the house that her parents built.  Natoma
knows it’s time for reform.

Laura Klitzka — this is a friend of mine, somebody I met when I
was campaigning in Wisconsin — Green Bay, Wisconsin.  She’s a young
mother; she’s got two kids.  She thought she had beaten her breast
cancer but later discovered it had spread to her bones.  She and her
husband had insurance, but their medical bills still landed them with
tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt.  And now she spends her time
worrying about that debt when all she wants to do is spend time with her
children.  I just talked to Laura this past weekend, and let me tell
you, she knows that the time for reform is right now.

So what should I tell these Americans?  That Washington is not sure how
it will play in November?  That we should walk away from this fight, or
do something — do something like some on the other side of the aisle
have suggested, well, we’ll do it incrementally; we’ll take baby steps;
we’ll do —

AUDIENCE:  No!

THE PRESIDENT:  So they want me to pretend to do something that doesn’t
really help these folks.

We have debated health care in Washington 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 both parties
have found areas where we agree.  What we’ve ended up with is a proposal
that’s somewhere in the middle — one that incorporates the best from
Democrats and Republicans, best ideas.

Think about it along the spectrum of how we could approach health care.
On one side of the spectrum there were those at the beginning of this
process who wanted to scrap our system of private insurance and replace
it with a government-run health care system, like they have in some
other countries.  (Applause.) Look, it works in places like Canada, but
I didn’t think it was going to be practical or realistic to do it here.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who believe that the
answer is just to loosen regulations on insurance companies.  This is
what we heard at the health care summit.  They said, well, you know
what, if we had fewer regulations on the insurance companies —

AUDIENCE:  Boo!

THE PRESIDENT:  — whether it’s consumer protections or basic standards
on what kind of insurance they sell, somehow market forces will make
things better.  Well, we’ve tried that.  I’m concerned that would only
give insurance companies more leeway to raise premiums and deny care.
(Applause.)

So the bottom line is I don’t believe we should give 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 why my proposal builds on the current system where most
Americans get their health insurance from their employer.  If you like
your plan, you can keep your plan.  If you like your doctor, you can
keep your doctor.  But I can tell you, as the father of two young girls,
I don’t want a plan that interferes with the relationship between a
family and their doctor.  So we’re going to preserve that.

Essentially, my proposal would change three things about the current
health care system.  Listen up.  First, it would end the worst practices
of insurance companies.  Within the first year of signing health care
reform, thousands of uninsured Americans with preexisting conditions
would suddenly be able to purchase health insurance for the very first
time in their lives, or the first time in a long time.  (Applause.)

This year, insurance companies will be banned forever from denying
coverage to children with preexisting conditions.  (Applause.)  This
year, they will be banned from dropping your coverage when you get sick.
(Applause.)  And they will no longer be able to arbitrarily and
massively hike your premiums — just like they did to Leslie or Natoma
or millions of others Americans.  Those practices will end.  (Applause.)

If this reform becomes law, all new insurance plans will be required to
offer free preventive care to their customers starting this year — free
check-ups so that we can catch preventable illnesses on the front end.
(Applause.)  Starting this year, there will be no more lifetime or
restrictive annual limits on the amount of care that you can receive
from your insurance companies.  There’s a lot of fine print in there
that can end up costing people hundreds of thousands of dollars because
they hit a limit.

If you’re a young adult, which many of you are, you’ll be able to
stay on your parents’ insurance policy until you’re 26 years old.
(Applause.)  And there will be a new, independent appeals process for
anybody who feels they were unfairly denied a claim by their insurance
company.  So you’ll have recourse if you’re being taken advantage of.
(Applause.)  So that’s the first thing that would change and it would
change fast — insurance companies would finally be held accountable to
the American people.  That’s number one.

Number two, second thing that would change about the current system is
this:  For the first time in their lives — or oftentimes, in a very
long time — uninsured individuals and small business owners will have
the same kind of choice of private health insurance that members of
Congress get for themselves.  (Applause.)  If it’s good enough for
Congress, it should be good enough for the people paying Congress its
salary  — that’s you.  (Applause.)

Now, the idea is very simple here, and it’s one — (audience
interruption) — I’m sorry, go ahead.  (Applause.)  Let me explain how
this would work, because it’s an idea that a lot of Republicans have
embraced in the past.  What my proposal says is that if you aren’t part
of a big group, if you don’t work for a big company, you can be part of
a pool which gives you bargaining power over insurance companies.  It’s
very straightforward.  Suddenly, just like the federal employees —
there are millions of them so they can drive a harder bargain with
insurance companies — you, as an individual or a small business owner,
could be part of this pool, which would give you more negotiating power
with the insurance companies for lower rates and a better deal.
(Applause.)  Right?

Now, if you still can’t afford the insurance that’s offered — even
though it’s a better deal than you can get on your own, but you still
just can’t get it, then what we’re going to do is give you a tax credit
to do so.  And these tax credits add up to the largest middle-class tax
cut for health care in history.  (Applause.)  Because the wealthiest
among us, they can already afford to buy the best insurance there is;
the least well off are already covered through Medicaid.  It’s the
middle class that gets squeezed.  That’s who we need to help with these
tax credits.  (Applause.)  That’s what we intend to do.  (Applause.)

Now, I want to be honest.  Let’s be clear.  This will cost some money.
It’s going to cost about $100 billion per year.  Most of this comes from
the nearly $2.5 trillion a year that America already spends on health
care.  It’s just that right now a lot of that money is being wasted or
it’s being spent badly.  So with this plan, we’re going to make sure
that the dollars we spend go to making insurance more affordable and
more secure.

So I’ll give you an example.  We’re going to eliminate wasteful taxpayer
subsidies that currently go to insurance and pharmaceutical companies.
(Applause.)  They are getting billions of dollars a year from the
government, from taxpayers, when they’re making a big profit.  I’d
rather see that money going to people who need it.  (Applause.)

We’ll set a new fee on insurance companies that stand to gain as
millions of Americans are able to buy insurance.  They’re going to have
30 million new customers; there’s nothing wrong with them paying a
little bit of the freight.  And we’ll make sure that the wealthiest
Americans pay their fair share of Medicare, just like everybody else
does.  (Applause.)

So the bottom line is this:  Our proposal is paid for.  All the new
money generated in this plan goes back to small business owners and
individuals in the middle class who right now are having trouble getting
insurance.  It would lower prescription drug prices for seniors.
(Applause.)  It would help train new doctors and nurses to provide care
for American families and physicians assistants and therapists.  I know
there are — got great programs here at Arcadia.  (Applause.)  I was
hearing about the terrific programs you have at Arcadia in the health
care field.  Well, you know what, we’re going to need more health care
professionals of the sorts that are being trained here, and we want to
help you get that training.  And that’s in this bill.  (Applause.)

So I’ve mentioned two things now:  insurance reform and making sure
the people who don’t have health insurance are able to get it.

Finally, my proposal would bring down the cost of health care for
millions — families, businesses, and the federal government.
(Applause.)  As I said, you keep on hearing from critics and some of the
Republicans on these Sunday shows say, well, we want to do more about
cost.  We have now incorporated almost every single serious idea from
across the political spectrum about how to contain the rising cost of
health care — ideas that go after waste and abuse in our system,
including in programs like Medicare.  But we do this while protecting
Medicare benefits, and we extend the financial stability of the program
by nearly a decade.

Our cost-cutting measures mirror most of the proposals in the current
Senate bill, which reduces most people’s premiums and brings down our
deficit by up to $1 trillion over the next decade because we’re spending
our health care dollars more wisely.  (Applause.)  Those aren’t my
numbers.  Those aren’t my numbers –they are the savings determined by
the Congressional Budget Office, which is the nonpartisan, independent
referee of Congress for what things cost.

So that’s our proposal:  insurance reform; making sure that you can have
choices in the marketplace for health insurance, and making it
affordable for people; and reducing costs.  (Applause.)

Now, think about it.  I think — how many people would like a proposal
that holds insurance companies more accountable?  (Applause.)  How many
people would like to give Americans the same insurance choices that
members of Congress get?  (Applause.) And how many would like a proposal
that brings down costs for everyone?  (Applause.)  That’s our proposal.
And it is paid for, and it’s a proposal whose time has come.
(Applause.)

The United States Congress owes the American people a final, up or down
vote on health care.  (Applause.)  It’s time to make a decision.  The
time for talk is over.  We need to see where people stand.  And we need
all of you to help us win that vote.  So I need you to knock on doors.
Talk to your neighbors.  Pick up the phone.  When you hear an argument
by the water cooler and somebody is saying this or that about it, say,
no, no, no, no, hold on a second.  And we need you to make your voices
heard all the way in Washington, D.C.  (Applause.)

They need to hear your voices because right now the Washington echo
chamber is in full throttle.  It is as deafening as it’s ever been.  And
as we come to that final vote, that echo chamber is telling members of
Congress, wait, think about the politics — instead of thinking about
doing the right thing.

That’s what Mitch McConnell said this weekend.  His main argument was,
well, this is going to be really bad for Democrats politically.  Now,
first of all, I generally wouldn’t take advice about what’s good for
Democrats.  (Laughter.)  But setting aside that, that’s not the issue
here.  The issue here is not the politics of it.

But that’s what people — that’s what members of Congress are hearing
right now on the cable shows and in the — sort of the gossip columns in
Washington.  It’s telling Congress comprehensive reform has failed
before — remember what happened to Clinton — it may just be too
politically hard.

Yes, it’s hard.  It is hard.  That’s because health care is complicated.
Health care is a hard issue.  It’s easily misrepresented.  It’s easily
misunderstood.  So it’s hard for some members of Congress to make this
vote.  There’s no doubt about that.  But you know what else is hard?
What Leslie and her family are going through — that’s hard.
(Applause.)  The possibility that Natoma Canfield might lose her house
because she’s about to lose her health insurance — that’s hard.
(Applause.)  Laura Klitzka in Green Bay having to worry about her cancer
and her debt at the same time, trying to explain that to her kids —
that’s hard.  (Applause.)  What’s hard is what millions of families and
small businesses are going through because we allow the insurance
industry to run wild in this country.  (Applause.)

So let me remind everybody:  Those of us in public office were not sent
to Washington to do what’s easy.  We weren’t sent there because of the
big fancy title.  We weren’t sent there to  — because of a big fancy
office.  We weren’t sent there just so everybody can say how wonderful
we are.  We were sent there to do what was hard.  (Applause.)  We were
sent there to take on the tough issues.  We were sent there to solve the
big challenges.  And that’s why we’re there.  (Applause.)

And at this moment — at this moment, we are being called upon to
fulfill our duty to the citizens of this nation and to future
generations.  (Applause.)

So I’ll be honest with you.  I don’t know how passing health care will
play politically, but I do know that it’s the right thing to do.
(Applause.)  It’s right for our families.  It’s right for our
businesses.  It’s right for the United States of America.  And if you
share that belief, I want you to stand with me and fight with me.
(Applause.)  And I ask you to help us get us over the finish line these
next few weeks.  (Applause.)  The need is great.  The opportunity is
here.  Let’s seize reform.  It’s within our grasp.  (Applause.)

Thank you very much, everybody.  God bless.  (Applause.)

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