White House Forum on Health Reform

Uploaded by whitehouse on 06.03.2009

>> MELODY BARNES: Well, good afternoon.
I'm pleased to welcome you to the White House Forum on
Healthcare Reform.
Many months ago President Obama promised the country that once
in the White House, he would take the steps necessary to
reform our healthcare system, not just because we should but
because we must.
Today, the President begins to fulfill that promise, joined by
engaged Americans, democratic and republican members of
Congress, doctors and nurses, business and laborers, insurers,
and hospital associations.
One undeniable truth brings everyone to the table: The
continuing sharp escalation of healthcare costs for families,
businesses, and the government is simply unsustainable.
Reform is needed to bring costs under control, to improve the
quality healthcare you are receiving, and to help those who
are losing their insurance.
In fact, at the end of last year, motivated by that
imperative, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of men
and women gathered at healthcare community discussions around the
No longer willing to let the status quo survive, they decided
to engage with their neighbors, coworkers, and fellow
parishioners to speak truth to power.
Today seven of those men and women are here with us, and I'm
pleased to introduce Travis Ulerick of Dublin, Indiana, who
will tell us what they discussed and what they believe must
happen next.
>> Travis Ulerick: Hi.
My name is Travis Ulerick, and I am a firefighter MT from Dublin,
Everyday on the job, I meet people who don't have health
insurance, people who are left out of the current healthcare
People in my town can't afford healthcare costs.
They can't afford doctors' visits.
And they can't afford ambulance rides.
When I saw on change.gov
that President Obama was encouraging people to host
healthcare community discussions, I realized I might
be able to do something that helped.
In fact, it was under my mom's influence that I decided I was
going to stop complaining and that I was going to do
So I decided to host a healthcare community discussion
in Dublin.
So I signed up to host a discussion and invited other
first responders, doctors, and members of our community to the
bay of my firestation in January.
Apparently, a few other people signed up to host discussions
Over 30,000 Americans participated in healthcare
community discussions over the holidays.
Joining me today is Julia Denton, a military wife and
republican who passionately supports the President's effort
to reform the health system, Siavash Sarlati, a third-year
medical student at the University of Wisconsin, Yvonne
Rubie, who held a discussion at her church in Brooklyn, James
Stoffer, a small business owner and father of five, Jose Olivia,
a veteran who hosted a discussion in El Paso Texas, and
Angela Diggs, who runs a senior wellness center in
Washington, D.C.
We are honored to be here to represent the thousands of
Americans who went to their churches, their community
centers, and their neighbor's homes to show leaders in
Washington that the time is now to reform our healthcare system.
Today we present a report to President Obama that reflects
the concerns and suggestions contributed as part of our
This report finds that Americans agree on the problems with the
system, that costs are too high and accessing quality coverage
is too difficult.
Some groups submitted stories that sound familiar to me
especially about people who were afraid to go to hospital for
treatment because they didn't know if they could afford it.
The most common thing is that Americans don't believe the
current healthcare system works for them.
President Obama, thanks to what you are doing today, Americans
can believe again that their government is working for them
and with them to solve this problem.
Thank you for challenging us to get involved, for listening to
us, and for being here, Mr. President.
I'm proud to present this report to you and your administration
as we begin to work together as a country to reform the
healthcare system.
And now, I'm very honored to introduce to you President
PRESIDENT: Good job.
Thank you.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much, everybody.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
Thank you so much everybody. Thank you, please have a seat.
Thank you so much, Travis, for the wonderful
Thank you for Melody Barnes, who has done more than anyone to
help coordinate this forum and its extraordinary work.
And so we appreciate her leadership.
We're here today to discuss one of the greatest threats not just
to the well-being of our families and the prosperity of
our businesses, but to the very foundation of our economy -- and
that's the exploding costs of health care in America today.
In the last eight years, premiums have grown four times
faster than wages.
An additional 9 million Americans have joined the ranks
of the uninsured.
The cost of health care now causes a bankruptcy in America
every 30 seconds.
By the end of the year, it could cause 1.5 million Americans to
lose their homes.
Even for folks who are weathering this economic storm,
and have health care right now, all it takes is one stroke of
bad luck -- an accident or an illness, a divorce, a lost job
-- to become one of the nearly 46 million uninsured or the
millions who have health care, but really can't afford what
they've got.
We didn't get here by accident.
The problems we face today are a direct consequence of actions
that we failed to take yesterday.
Since Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform nearly a
century ago, we have talked and we have tinkered.
We have tried and fallen short, we've stalled for time, and
again we have failed to act because of Washington politics
or industry lobbying.
And today, there are those who say we should defer health care
reform once again -- that at a time of economic crisis, we
simply can't afford to fix our health care system, as well.
Well, let me be clear: The same soaring costs that are straining
families' budgets are sinking our businesses and eating up our
government's budget, too.
Too many small businesses can't insure their employees.
Major American corporations are struggling to compete with their
foreign counterparts.
And companies of all sizes are shipping their jobs overseas or
shutting their doors for good.
Medicare costs are consuming our federal budget; I don't have to
tell members of Congress this.
Medicaid is overwhelming our state budgets; I don't need to
tell governors and state legislatures that.
At the fiscal summit that we held here last week, the one
thing on which everyone agreed was that the greatest threat to
America's fiscal health is not Social Security, though that's a
significant challenge; it's not the investments that we've made
to rescue our economy during this crisis.
By a wide margin, the biggest threat to our nation's balance
sheet is the skyrocketing cost of health care.
It's not even close.
That's why we cannot delay this discussion any longer.
That's why today's forum is so important -- because health care
reform is no longer just a moral imperative, it's a fiscal
If we want to create jobs and rebuild our economy and get our
federal budget under control, then we have to address the
crushing cost of health care this year, in this
Making investments in reform now, investments that will
dramatically lower costs, won't add to our budget deficits in
the long term -- rather, it is one of the best ways -- in fact
maybe the only way -- to reduce those long-term costs.
Now, I know people are skeptical about whether Washington can
bring about this change.
Our inability to reform health care in the past is just one
example of how special interests have had their way, and the
public interest has fallen by the wayside.
And I know people are afraid we'll draw the same old lines in
the sand and give in to the same entrenched interests and arrive
back at the same stalemate that we've been stuck in for decades.
But I am here today and I believe you are here today
because this time is different.
This time, the call for reform is coming from the bottom up and
from all across the spectrum -- from doctors, from nurses, from
patients; from unions, from businesses; from hospitals,
health care providers, community groups.
It's coming from mayors and governors and legislatures,
Democrats, Republicans -- all who are racing ahead of
Washington to pass bold health care initiatives on their own.
This time, there is no debate about whether all Americans
should have quality, affordable health care -- the only question
is, how?
And the purpose of this forum is to start answering that question
-- to determine how we lower costs for everyone, improve
quality for everyone, and expand coverage to all Americans.
And our goal will be to enact comprehensive health care reform
by the end of this year.
That is our commitment.
That is our goal.
Now, in the past month alone, we've done a lot more to advance
that goal than we've done in the past decade.
We've provided and protected coverage for 11 million children
from working families, and for 7 million Americans who've lost
their jobs in this downturn.
We've made the largest investment in history in
preventive care; invested in electronic medical records that
will save money, ensure privacy, and save lives; we've launched a
new effort to find a cure for cancer in our time.
We've also set aside in our budget a health care reserve
fund to finance comprehensive reform.
I know that more will be required, but this is a
significant down payment that's fully paid for, does not add one
penny to our deficit.
And I look forward to working with Congress and the American
people to get this budget passed.
Now, as we work to determine the details of health care reform,
we won't always see eye to eye.
We may disagree -- and disagree strongly -- about particular
But we know that there are plenty of areas of agreement, as
well, and that should serve as the starting points for our
We can all agree that if we want to bring down skyrocketing
costs, we'll need to modernize our system and invest in
We can agree that if we want greater accountability and
responsibility, we have to ensure that people aren't
overcharged for prescription drugs, or discriminated against
for pre-existing conditions -- and we need to eliminate fraud,
waste and abuse in government programs.
I think most of us would agree that if we want to cover all
Americans, we can't make the mistake of trying to fix what
isn't broken.
So if somebody has insurance they like, they should be able
to keep that insurance.
If they have a doctor that they like, they should be able to
keep their doctor.
They should just pay less for the care that they receive.
And finally, we can all agree that if we want to translate
these goals into policies, we need a process that is as
transparent and inclusive as possible.
And that's why I've asked all of you -- representatives of
organizations, interests, and parties from across the spectrum
-- to join us here today.
In fact, this was the hottest ticket in town.
(Laughter.) That's why we asked concerned citizens like the
folks on this stage to organize open meetings across America
where people could air their views.
As Travis said, more than 3,000 meetings were held in all 50
states and D.C.; more than 30,000 people attended.
I thank them for their input and their ideas, and look forward to
reading the report that Travis has presented to me.
In this effort, every voice has to be heard.
Every idea must be considered.
Every option must be on the table.
There should be no sacred cows.
Each of us must accept that none of us will get everything that
we want, and that no proposal for reform will be perfect.
If that's the measure, we will never get anything done.
But when it comes to addressing our health care challenge, we
can no longer let the perfect be the enemy of the essential.
And I don't think anybody would argue that we are on a
sustainable path when it comes to health care.
Finally, I want to be very clear at the outset that while
everyone has a right to take part in this discussion, nobody
has the right to take it over and dominate.
The status quo is the one option that's not on the table, and
those who seek to block any reform at all -- any reform at
any costs will not prevail this time around.
I didn't come here to Washington to work for those interests.
I came here to work for the American people -- the folks I
met on the campaign trail, the people I hear from every single
day in the White House.
Folks who are working hard, making all the right decisions,
but still face choices that no one in this country should have
to make: how long to put off that doctor's appointment;
whether to fill that prescription; when to give up
and head to the emergency room because there are no other
I've read some of the many letters they've sent asking me
for help.
And they're usually not asking for much.
I don't get letters where people are just asking for a free ride,
for a handout.
Most of them are embarrassed about their situation; they
would rather not have to ask for help.
They start, usually, by saying that they've never written a
letter like this before.
Some end by apologizing -- saying they've written to me
because they have nowhere else to turn; asking me not to forget
about them, not to forget about their families.
But there are a lot of people out there who are desperate.
There's a lot of desperation out there.
Today I want them, and people like them across this country,
to know that I have not forgotten them.
We have not forgotten them.
They are why we're here today -- to start delivering the change
they demanded at the polls in November; that they have
continued to demand since the election.
And if we're successful, if we can pass comprehensive reform,
these folks will see their costs come down, they'll get the care
they need, and we'll help our businesses create jobs again so
our economy can grow.
So it's not going to be easy.
And there are going to be false starts and setbacks and mistakes
along the way.
But I'm confident if we come together and work together, we
will finally achieve what generations of Americans have
fought for and fulfill the promise of health care in our
And what a remarkable achievement that would be --
something that Democrats and Republicans, business and labor,
consumer groups and providers, all of us could share
extraordinary pride in finally dealing with something that has
been vexing us for so long.
So let's get to work.
Thank you.
MELODY BARNES: So as the President says it is time
to get to work.
We are thrilled that you all are here.
What we are going to do next is leave this room and
everyone will go into smaller break out sessions so we
can talk about issues of cost and coverage and quality.
On your name tage everyone has indicated the room you
should attend.
We will go there and have a conversation for about
75 minutes then a short break.
Then we will return here for a conversation with the
President again.
Thank you and we are looking forward to seeing you in the
break out sessions.