THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
EMBARGOED FOR DELIVERY March 3, 2010
EMBARGOED: Remarks of President Barack Obama on Health Insurance Reform
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Please find below President Obama’s remark as
prepared for delivery in the East Room this afternoon. The remarks are
embargoed for delivery:
Good afternoon. We began our push to reform
health insurance last March with the doctors and nurses who know the
system best, and so it is fitting to be joined by all of you as we
bring this journey to a close.
Last Thursday, I spent seven hours at a summit
where Democrats and Republicans engaged in a public and substantive
discussion about health care. This meeting capped off a debate that
began with a similar summit nearly one year ago. Since then, every
idea has been put on the table. Every argument has been made.
Everything there is to say about health care has been said and just
about everyone has said it. So now is the time to make a decision about
how to finally reform health care so that it works, not just for the
insurance companies, but for America’s families and businesses.
Where both sides say they agree is that the
status quo is not working for the American people. Health insurance is
becoming more expensive by the day. Families can’t afford it.
Businesses can’t afford it. The federal government can’t afford it.
Smaller businesses and individuals who don’t get coverage at work are
squeezed especially hard. And insurance companies freely ration health
care based on who’s sick and who’s healthy; who can pay and who can’t.
Democrats and Republicans agree that this is a
serious problem for America. And we agree that if we do nothing – if
we throw up our hands and walk away – it’s a problem that will only
grow worse. More Americans will lose their family’s health insurance
if they switch jobs or lose their job. More small businesses will be
forced to choose between health care and hiring. More insurance
companies will deny people coverage who have preexisting conditions, or
drop people’s coverage when they get sick and need it most. And the
rising cost of Medicare and Medicaid will sink our government deeper and
deeper into debt. On all of this we agree.
So the question is, what do we do about it?
On one end of the spectrum, there are some who
have suggested scrapping our system of private insurance and replacing
it with government-run health care. Though many other countries have
such a system, in America it would be neither practical nor realistic.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are
those, including most Republicans in Congress, who believe the answer
is to loosen regulations on the insurance industry – whether it’s state
consumer protections or minimum standards for the kind of insurance
they can sell. I disagree with that approach. I’m concerned that this
would only give the insurance industry even freer rein to raise
premiums and deny care.
I don’t believe we should give government
bureaucrats or insurance company bureaucrats more control over health
care in America. I believe it’s time to give the American people more
control over their own health insurance. I don’t believe we can afford
to leave life-and-death decisions about health care to the discretion
of insurance company executives alone. I believe that doctors and
nurses like the ones in this room should be free to decide what’s best
for their patients.
The proposal I’ve put forward gives Americans
more control over their health care by holding insurance companies more
accountable. It 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. Because I can tell you that as the father of two young girls, I
wouldn’t want any plan that interferes with the relationship between a
family and their doctor.
Essentially, my proposal would change three things about the current health care system:
First, it would end the worst practices of
insurance companies. No longer would they be able to deny your
coverage because of a pre-existing condition. No longer would they be
able to drop your coverage because you got sick. No longer would they
be able to force you to pay unlimited amounts of money out of your own
pocket. No longer would they be able to arbitrarily and massively
raise premiums like Anthem Blue Cross recently tried to do in
California. Those practices would end.
Second, my proposal would give uninsured
individuals and small business owners the same kind of choice of
private health insurance that Members of Congress get for themselves.
Because if it’s good enough for Members of Congress, it’s good enough
for the people who pay their salaries. The reason federal employees
get a good deal on health insurance is that we all participate in an
insurance marketplace where insurance companies give better rates and
coverage because we give them more customers. This is an idea that
many Republicans have embraced in the past. And my proposal says that
if you still can’t afford the insurance in this new marketplace, we
will offer you tax credits to do so – tax credits that add up to the
largest middle class tax cut for health care in history. After all,
the wealthiest among us can already buy the best insurance there is,
and the least well-off are able to get coverage through Medicaid. But
it’s the middle-class that gets squeezed, and that’s who we have to
Now, it’s true that all of this will cost
money – about $100 billion per year. But most of this comes from the
nearly $2 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 spent
badly. With this plan, we’re going to make sure the dollars we spend
go toward making insurance more affordable and more secure. We’re also
going to eliminate wasteful taxpayer subsidies that currently go to
insurance and pharmaceutical companies, set a new fee on insurance
companies that stand to gain as millions of Americans are able to buy
insurance, and make sure the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share
The bottom line is, our proposal is paid for.
And all new money generated in this plan would go back to small
businesses and middle-class families who can’t afford health
insurance. It would lower prescription drug prices for seniors. And
it would help train new doctors and nurses to provide care for American
Finally, my proposal would bring down the cost
of health care for millions – families, businesses, and the federal
government. We have now incorporated most of the serious ideas from
across the political spectrum about how to contain the rising cost of
health care – ideas that go after the waste and abuse in our system,
especially in programs like Medicare. But we do this while protecting
Medicare benefits, and extending 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
two decades. And those aren’t my numbers – they are the savings
determined by the CBO, which is the Washington acronym for the
nonpartisan, independent referee of Congress.
So this is our proposal. This is where we’ve
ended up. It’s an approach that has been debated and changed and I
believe improved over the last year. It incorporates the best ideas
from Democrats and Republicans – including some of the ideas that
Republicans offered during the health care summit, like funding state
grants on medical malpractice reform and curbing waste, fraud, and abuse
in the health care system. My proposal also gets rid of many of the
provisions that had no place in health care reform – provisions that
were more about winning individual votes in Congress than improving
health care for all Americans.
Now, despite all that we agree on and all the
Republican ideas we’ve incorporated, many Republicans in Congress just
have a fundamental disagreement over whether we should have more or
less oversight of insurance companies. And if they truly believe that
less regulation would lead to higher quality, more affordable health
insurance, then they should vote against the proposal I’ve put forward.
Some also believe that we should instead
pursue a piecemeal approach to health insurance reform, where we just
tinker around the edges of this challenge for the next few years. Even
those who acknowledge the problem of the uninsured say that we can’t
afford to help them – which is why the Republican proposal only covers
three million uninsured Americans while we cover over 31 million. But
the problem with that approach is that unless everyone has access to
affordable coverage, you can’t prevent insurance companies from denying
coverage based on pre-existing conditions; you can’t limit the amount
families are forced to pay out of their own pockets; and you don’t do
anything about the fact that taxpayers end up subsidizing the uninsured
when they’re forced to go to the Emergency Room for care. The fact
is, health reform only works if you take care of all these problems at
Both during and after last week’s summit,
Republicans in Congress insisted that the only acceptable course on
health care reform is to start over. But given these honest and
substantial differences between the parties about the need to regulate
the insurance industry and the need to help millions of middle-class
families get insurance, I do not see how another year of negotiations
would help. Moreover, the insurance companies aren’t starting over.
They are continuing to raise premiums and deny coverage as we speak.
For us to start over now could simply lead to delay that could last for
another decade or even more. The American people, and the U.S.
economy, just can’t wait that long.
So, no matter which approach you favor, I
believe the United States Congress owes the American people a final
vote on health care reform. We have debated this issue thoroughly, not
just for a year, but for decades. Reform has already passed the House
with a majority. It has already passed the Senate with a supermajority
of sixty votes. And now it deserves the same kind of up-or-down vote
that was cast on welfare reform, the Children’s Health Insurance
Program, COBRA health coverage for the unemployed, and both Bush tax
cuts – all of which had to pass Congress with nothing more than a
I have therefore asked leaders in both of
Houses of Congress to finish their work and schedule a vote in the next
few weeks. From now until then, I will do everything in my power to
make the case for reform. And I urge every American who wants this
reform to make their voice heard as well – every family, every business
owner, every patient, every doctor, every nurse.
This has been a long and wrenching debate. It
has stoked great passions among the American people and their
representatives. And that is because health care is a difficult
issue. It is a complicated issue. As all of you know from experience,
health care can literally be an issue of life or death. As a result,
it easily lends itself to demagoguery and political gamesmanship;
misrepresentation and misunderstanding.
But that’s not an excuse for those of us who
were sent here to lead to just walk away. We can’t just give up
because the politics are hard. I know there’s a fascination, bordering
on obsession, in the media and in this town about what passing health
insurance reform would mean for the next election and the one after
that. Well, I’ll leave others to sift through the politics. Because
that’s not what this is about. That’s not why we’re here.
This is about what reform would mean for the
mother with breast cancer whose insurance company will finally have to
pay for her chemotherapy. This is about what reform would mean for the
small business owner who will no longer have to choose between hiring
more workers or offering coverage to the employees she has. This is
about what reform would mean for the middle-class family who will be
able to afford health insurance for the very first time in their
And this is about what reform would mean for
all those men and women I’ve met over the last few years who’ve been
brave enough to share their stories. When we started our push for
reform last year, I talked about a young mother in Wisconsin named
Laura Klitzka [KLITZ kah]. She has two young children. She thought
she had beaten her breast cancer but then later discovered it spread to
her bones. She and her husband were working – and had insurance – but
their medical bills still landed them in debt. And now she spends time
worrying about that debt when all she wants to do is spend time with
her children and focus on getting well.
This should not happen in the United States of
America. And it doesn’t have to. In the end, that’s what this debate
is about – it’s about the kind of country we want to be. It’s about
the millions of lives that would be touched and in some cases saved by
making private health insurance more secure and more affordable.
At stake right now is not just our
ability to solve this problem, but our ability to solve any problem.
The American people want to know if it’s still possible for Washington
to look out for their interests and their future. They are waiting for
us to act. They are waiting for us to lead. And as long as I hold
this office, I intend to provide that leadership. I don’t know how
this plays politically, but I know it’s right. And so I ask Congress
to finish its work, and I look forward to signing this reform into law.