March 3rd, 2010
01:51 PM ET
4 years ago

Obama on health care reform: 'I know it's right'

Washington (CNN) - The White House has released President Obama's full remarks of his Wednesday address in the East Room.

Watch the president live on CNNPolitics.com

Related: Obama set to release final health care reform plan

(Read the full remarks after the jump)

Remarks of President Barack Obama on Health Insurance Reform
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Washington, DC

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 help.

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 of Medicare.

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 families.

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 once.

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 simple majority.

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 lives.

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. Thank you.

soundoff (110 Responses)
  1. Steph

    Amen Mr. President! Let's move forward.

    March 3, 2010 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  2. Aaron

    Let's support President Obama's healthcare initiative. It's time to end the debate about healthcare reform and implement healthcare reform initiatives and policies and codify them. The healthcare summit has made clear that the Republicans do not have a healthcare reform plan and do not want to reform the nation's health insurance system. They went to the summit to obstruct and subvert President Obama's healthcare initiative. President Obama and the Democrats should just go ahead and implement healthcare reform without any further delay.

    March 3, 2010 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  3. NC Independent.

    Go for it Mr. President. You are in charge of this country. I will not vote for anyone that will not vote for health care for our most needy citizens. For all of you that think I need health care I am a reired government employee. I want everyone to have what I and many others have, a good health care plan.

    March 3, 2010 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  4. michaela

    Yea,for President Obama I listened to
    him today your a good man Mr. President you are in touch with the
    American middle class especially we that used to be of middle class
    and are now unemployed and there are of lot of us that are in our late 40sand early 50s with preconditions from where we were raised, worked, and what we ate. John Bayner you represent my State of Ohio do the right thing vote yes on health care it my be the last good thing you do before elections this November.

    March 3, 2010 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  5. if I was crazy, I'd be a conservative too

    When this bill is signed, we will begin to see an end to health insurance abuses and also the GOP. The republicans have had a good two months, now it is time to reject their hate, fear, stupidity, and obstructionism.

    March 3, 2010 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  6. Helen Hahn

    Republicans say we cannot afford health care reform. I say we cannot keep the status quo. Americans are at the mercy of the health insurance industry and cannot afford their premiums. We could pay for it if we make congress buy their health care, pay for their pensions, cut in half what we give other nations, cut the pork out of bills,hold the pentagon on their spending, take back the privatizing of military jobs etc.

    March 3, 2010 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  7. Richie in Mass

    His new plan hasn't even been checked by the CBO but he claims it's paid for. The headline of this is his message. " I know it's right". In other words. I know the majority of Americans don't believe me or our government is capable of doing this. I know they oppose this plan but hey, I won the election and I am doing it.

    The oposition to this wasn't because it lacked a few republican ideas. It's because it's a bearucratic mess. It will destroy my healthcare I have now. It won't be paid for and will only add to our massive debt. He just wants to pass anything that he can claim is healthcare reform. Maybe if the president and congress worked this hard to fix the economy the last year the american people would accept the plan. Up till now , nothing they have said has come true. The 787 billion dollar stimulus didn't keep unemployment below 8%. In fact less than a year later it costs 825 billion. So in 10 years of collecting taxes on a program with 6 years of benefits, excuse me if I don't believe it's paid for or deficit neutral. The 2nd 10 surely isn't.

    March 3, 2010 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  8. Mike in MN

    As ususal Obama misrepresented the Republican positions and views while at the same time exagerating what Obamacare will do and leaving out all the parts that a majority of voters don't like.
    He said in his speech that this issues leads to demagoguery and political gamesmanship and misrepresentation. Well Obama is the king of demagoguery and political gamesmanship and misrepresentation.

    March 3, 2010 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  9. YOU ARE BUSTED

    OK Republican lawmakers ....

    I'm so glad that our President is forcing an up or down vote on this important topic.

    This is America and majority rule is the American way. If the GOP can argue the SUBSTANCE of bill and defeat it on SUBSTANCE so be it.

    The question to them from the media needs to remain ... the President has included Republican ideas in this bill .... if Republicans don't vote for it, should the President ever include any more GOP ideas?

    March 3, 2010 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  10. sharon

    How is the this bill going to stop insurances from raising my co pay by 50%?

    March 3, 2010 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  11. DJ in TX

    I like it. My wife and I are planning on keeping our insurance. But I lost my job last year and my severance only paid for 2 months worth of insurance (COBRA), but that would have been $1000 per month. (I only have 1 son). Luckily my wife was able to get insurance for us. But as the primary bread winner now, that took a lot out of her check. I know the feeling of not having health care, especially for our child. If this works, great. But believe me, without insurance, we would be bankrupt.

    March 3, 2010 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  12. BeverlyNC

    The passage of healthcare reform IS right and moral and humane. Americans are desperate for healthcare and we are the only industrialized nation who does not take care of its own citizens with proper healthcare.

    President Obama is doing what is best for the American people as he had on every issue since he became our great leader. He is protecting us against the abusive insurance industry (who Republicans took money from to vote against reform) and to bring down the absurd premium costs and increases.

    My family had its premiums raised 40% by our greedy insurance company and we have NO health issues or problems.

    I guess as long as Republicans have their GOVT-RUN healthcare plan they all use, then to hell with those of us beneath their arrogant elitist class.

    Sen Bunning just showed working families how little he knows or cares about their lives and what they deal with every day. Republicans do NOT know what Americans do or do not want. They make up lies to fit whatever their talking points of the day are. They do not want healthcare reform only because they do not want to have President Obama succeed at anything. It goes against their "we want America to fail" policy.

    Republicans care NOTHING about the welfare of the People and they have proven that over and over this entire Congress. They have abused the Senate filibuster process – 187 times! They are also hypocrites on Reconciliation.Out of the 14 times it has been used – 10 times were by Republican-controlled Congresses. None of those times was it used for the the benefit of working families. Republicans used it for ALL NON-PAID FOR bills that have the wealthiest Americans tax cuts, to fund the 2 fraudulent Bush wars, and the Constitutionally-dangerous Patriot Act that gave Bush full power to tap our phone lines at any time, drag us in for terrorist interrorigation at any time, and break international law on torture through the unlimited, unmonitored "executive privilege" clause.

    This healthcare bill reins in the insurance companies who let us die for profit increases. It reduces our deficit, which Republicans "supposedly" are so fixated on – just as long as none of their Pork projects are not touched.

    Anyone who votes NO on the healthcare bill WILL lose their seat in the House and the Senate. If you vote against the People and our needs, we WILL vote NO for your re-election.

    That goes for obstructionist Republicans and for wimpy Democrats!

    March 3, 2010 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  13. Jeff

    We need to pay attention to what the number 3 republican said today. If the President / Democrats health care proposal will include 30 some million more middle class citizens of which would be put on medicare. The citizens would think they would be covered but if the doctors will be turning away medicare patients, whats the point?

    This is just like the federal governments stimulus bill. They gave citizens tax breaks and a small check, great. But local state taxes went through the roof and credit card companies raised their rates so people are still no more further financially than before.

    I applaud the Presidents stance but he needs to think the process through all the way down the political chain as well as to the state level and the private sector levels. In a so called capitalist society, people will always try to find loop holes to government plans to make a profit and the federal government needs to focus on plugging or preventing these holes if their plans are to succeed.

    I am not looking for the President to make a statement in a couple years saying I passed the bill and it was a good bill but the insurance companies caused the plan to fell.

    Just like now, we are going after the credit card companies for raising card rates. The government should have put the credit card rate hike bill in place before sending out checks to people and should have put a cap on how much states can tax and private sector companies can raise rates. Unfortunately by the government trying to stimulate the economy, all they did was put more money into the banks. For me, the extra money received from the federal government went to paying bills, not buying new things or traveling.

    March 3, 2010 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  14. Kat

    I so wish this fool would listen to the American people and lay off our healthcare!!! He is breaking our once great country. I don't know if anyone could repair the damage he has and will create before we can get his_____ out of office.

    March 3, 2010 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  15. Ara

    You covered live at 1:45 pm today the Presiden'ts speech on health care reform but failed to cover Senator Mitch McConnell's response at 2:30. Is there any wonder, then, that your network is labeled as leftist, if not liberal?

    March 3, 2010 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  16. Jeff Spangler, Arlington, VA

    Too little leadership too late on an overreaching agenda.

    March 3, 2010 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  17. Rachel ... not Rahmebone

    Rahme Emmanuel is not the knife fighter he was made out to be. This is what the president needs.

    Mr. President you need to hire someone like Rachel Maddow and put her on your staff. She's smart, she thinks well on her feet, she is passionate about what she believes, she has the tenacity of a bulldog, and she calls transgressors out. You need a ninja like Rachel that will cut the republicans ..... smooth.

    Rahme isn't getting it done.

    March 3, 2010 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  18. Anonymous

    JUST DO IT! This has taken waay tooo lonnggg!
    The game playing has been a joke. Both side agree- in private – we need reform, but they all want their cut and i think thta's what was wrong with the Republicans and a 60 seat Sentate- they had no leverage for their (I'll be nice) earmarks.

    March 3, 2010 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  19. Slider

    "I know it's right."

    Barry, you weren't elected to decide for this country what is right. You weren't elected to dictate to us what we should and should not buy, or what is good for us.

    How can you be deaf with ears like that, boy?

    You are a fraud. You have no answer for Paul Ryan's budget concerns.

    You are a loser.

    March 3, 2010 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  20. Julia - Native American from Idaho

    Thanks to Ronald Reagan we now have at least a partial Universal health care system. Here's the law that he signed. And because the Republicans have denied health care to those who need it the most, the poor, I recommend every person without health insurance use this plan. In fact when I retire, I am going to provide transportation to all sick people that need a ride to our local Emergency department, break the system it that's what it takes to get medical care for all our citizens, after all this is a Democracy, isn't it??? The hospital will pass on the cost to the insured patients and the insurance companies will just keep raisin' their immoral rates, well you get the picture This is probably the only thing Reagan did that was a benefit to anyone.

    March 3, 2010 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  21. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    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.
    -------------------------------–

    I read the entire text. I am proud and in support of our President. Godspeed to him. Let's get this done.

    March 3, 2010 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  22. Mike in MN

    Republicans know this big government, tax and spend, liberal/progressive bill is wrong. The parts Republicans support do not take the big government liberal/progressive parts out of it.
    No Republican could vote for this terrible bill and expect anyone would ever believe they are a conservative. For a conservative to vote for this will would be the same as rejecting their small government, low tax and free market conservative beliefs. Obama and the Democrats are going to have to pass this without any Republican votes.
    If voters decide to like Obamacare Republicans will pay the price, if not, Obama and the Democrats will.

    March 3, 2010 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  23. Mark

    President Obama is insisting on an up or down vote on healthcare. Well, I would like to suggest an up or down vote on President Obama since he won't listen to the American people. I bet if there was an up or down vote on President Obama that really meant he would have to leave office he would back down very quickly on the healthcare vote.

    March 3, 2010 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  24. Anthony R. Ravenell

    Mr. President, there is no civility in government! You have the agenda in both the Senate and House do please just pass the bill. Please do not keep reemphasing your agenda and that this would be great for the American people. Other Presidents Democrat and Republican have passed agendas and you are no different. If you are successful, you will gain votes to allow you to remain in office another 4 years, if the latter you will be a one-term President. It is just that simple! God luck and God bless the United States because we need it!

    March 3, 2010 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  25. Ryan

    Let's get it done. There's nothing more to say.

    March 3, 2010 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
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