March 3rd, 2010
01:51 PM ET
8 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

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. Tom SE NM (The Working Part)

    Obama doesn't have a clue as to what is, or is not, in the Health Care bills. His narcissism has just kicked in again and he is obsessed with getting anything passed, no matter what it costs us taxpayers in buying Democratic Senators votes and/or appeasing his union buddies. How can anyone understand 2,800 pages of hidden deals and gotchas! Another failed Federal attempt to control our lives. I want government OUT of my life!

    March 3, 2010 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  2. bob

    he still thinks that he and the democratic party know more about what the American people want and need than the people themselves.

    The current bill needs to be thrown out and work restarted. The democratic leaders say there is no time to do this, that America needs this bill passed now. If the American people needed a health care bill now, why doesn't any benefit or coverage kick in for years?

    Sounds like there could be work done on a new bill and get any coverage started in at least the same time frame that the dems propose.

    March 3, 2010 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  3. Stop The Obama Sheep

    King Obama speaks, thou shalt bow and follow! Well, you are wrong doth King Obama. Your speech is full of lies and mistruths. Shame on you for your lies and this awful bill that will forever indebt us. Only good thing is, Pelosi and Reid will NOT be in power in January.

    March 3, 2010 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  4. Sue

    Amen....get this done and include public option in the reconciliation fine tuning.....

    March 3, 2010 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  5. C. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    My family and I deserve the same kind of healthcare the people in Washington and their families have that is provided by us and "I know it's right".

    March 3, 2010 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  6. Jean Proffitt

    I would like for the democrats to pass the health care plan as quickly as possible. The republicans have no understanding of how the middle class people live.

    March 3, 2010 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  7. american patriot

    Well Mr President

    Sorry we are just not buying it.

    See Mr President we ALL now know the Health Care Bill has been so watered down by Lobbiyst that it is pretty much a Profit Bill for the Healthcare Industry.

    If it were best for WE THE PEOPLE, the drug comapnies and Hospitals and Health insurance Companies would all be advertising on TV against it and THEY ARE NOT.

    I can assure you this, so far you are a ONE TERM WONDER.
    A Massive Nation Wide Tax Protest is scheduledfor April.

    And in Novemebr there will a second.

    Largest Anti-Government Protest in American History.

    Mr President we are not going away.

    We are stopping the Corporate and Government Corruption

    March 3, 2010 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  8. RH

    The Republicans are WRONG
    The Democrats are GUTLESS

    March 3, 2010 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  9. Ha!!!

    Yes the elitists Democrats with their arrogance in Chief knows what's better for us than we do. If this bill is so great & so right why do they have to use reconciliation to pass? No good can ever come of spending money we do not have! Our future generations will look on us as the worse selfish generation ever in history.

    I guess US learns nothing fr what is going in Greece! Good luck when this country becomes just like it!

    March 3, 2010 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  10. Randolph Carter, I'm no expert but....

    Here's an idea. Let's say you retire at 65 and start collecting social security. When you use up the money you put in over the years, you get cut off. No more social security. You get the money you "worked hard for" and no lazy Oprah watching welfare queens (because that's what all unemployed people are, right?) get a cent of your money. Anything more would be socialism. This way is much more fair. Have a nice day!

    March 3, 2010 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  11. The lonely Libertarian of Liverpool NY

    NO NO NO this reform is unconstitutional and goes above and beyond "providing for the general welfare of the people".

    March 3, 2010 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  12. Randolph Carter, I'm no expert but....

    "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."

    Because we're special. Have a nice day!

    March 3, 2010 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  13. Paul Ernest Show

    If CNN report on waste and abuse of the present health insurance is true, we sure need more than reform. Obviously, we have enough money to pay for every one's insurance, if these abuses are curtailed. If the republican party will stop trying to protect these health corporations that are over-billing government and patients. Some of these costs are criminal.

    March 3, 2010 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  14. Steph

    Dear Democrats,
    This is what is looks like when you have a pair. Rock on Mr. President!

    March 3, 2010 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  15. T'SAH from Virginia

    A lot of the RepubliCAN'Ts did agree with most of the bill and they said it themselves in the SUMMIT!!! Remember – "..we're not that far apart in what we agree in..."

    GO FOR IT Mr. President because the American people have your BACK and CNN will soon take polls of those results – since they are so POLL CRAZY!!!

    March 3, 2010 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  16. dean shugars

    To President Obama and congress; While I'm sure reform maybe necessary and even good for all, I take expecion to the idea that now is the time the debate is not over by a long shot. Since niether the right or left can agree let's try the the middle. Pres. Obama as a percieved left, big gov'tman you have laid out a course which has not been endorsed by a lot of people and the right the same, it's time to use your phrase: CHANGE be it idealog/ or tactics!! Right folks the same listen to America:CHANGE!! OR else drop it and get on with the business and LEAD!!

    March 3, 2010 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |

    isnt this supposed to be deficit neutral? then that blows the argument of the reconciliation thing because that is what it was used for in the past

    i have insurance that i am very happy with but my employer may decide to go with a cheaper company and my coverage may not be as good with their choice of companies so now i am forced to accept a policy that does not give me the same coverage and my co payment will go up

    thanks barry boi you really helped the insurance companies with your hand out to them and im sure my employer will be happy too since they control what companies we have to choose from

    got a feeling you didnt think that thro but i understand you have to think of yourself first and your legacy in the mean time keep smoking you fool and we will pay for your lung cancer chemo

    March 3, 2010 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  18. Henry Miller, Libertarian

    "I know it’s right."

    That's the problem. Obama thinks he knows, better than we mere citizens do, what's "right." It doesn't matter to him that a majority of us think he's wrong, at least about the health care issue. We're too dumb, we've been misled or lied to, we don't understand the issues, etc. etc.

    You know? Even if any of that were true, it wouldn't matter. The US is a democracy, and what the people want is supposed to matter, even if what they want doesn't match the preconceptions of one highly intelligent, Harvard educated, guy who just happens to be President.

    "There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him."

    March 3, 2010 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  19. Chris D.

    This is why I voted Obama/Biden in 2008, and will do so in 2012........Finally we have an advocate in the White House.....The middle class have a champion........
    God Bless America, and congress, pass this bill!!!

    March 3, 2010 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  20. Terry from D.C.

    We don't want your health care reform!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Leave my mothers medicare alone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I don't want my tax dollars used to kill unborn babies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Leave us alone and go back to Indonesia or Hawaii or where ever you are from!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 3, 2010 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  21. A True Centrist

    It's funny that the President thinks he knows more about what is best for us than we do. A large majority of Americans oppose the health care bill as currently written (40% for vs 50% against per the Real Clear Politics Average). Nancy Pelosi actually told the Dems in the House not to worry about their jobs and to worry more about pushing this bill through. Think about that, this bill is so unpopular that the Dems know they will be voted out of office. They are blatantly and openly saying they don't care what their constituents want...they are only going to do what the President wants. I'm starting to give up here. The Republicans disgusted me, and now the Dems disgust me even more. The Dems better wake up or they are going to completely lose the independent majority in this country. Someone needs to remind them that they work for us, not the other way around (and that includes you Mr President!)

    March 3, 2010 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  22. Ha!!!

    Please tell Laura Klitzka and her two children that this bill will not help her debt & IF she is qualified to receive any benefits fr this bill, she will still have to wait 4 more yrs after it is signed into law to get them. Yes that 4 more yrs of debt, 4 more yrs of no help while her taxes goes to pay for health insurance she cannot have! Now that's CHANGE!

    Oh those of you that are sick now and need this "free healthcare" hang in there and wait 4 yrs when u r forced to buy health insurance to cover yourselves!

    Lastly, Obama made deals with the insurance co, pharmaceutical co, & UNIONS so they would shut up! Insurance bought with the incentive that if Fed Govt forces everyone to buy health insurance, insurance co., will see their customer base & resulting profits increase.

    Oh but wait, isn't it the Republicans that are in bed with the insurance co?

    March 3, 2010 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  23. Debby

    Obama and his "I's" again Why can't the American people vote on the health care bill in the fall midterms. This should be on the ballot in November. Mr. President this isn't all about you its about us and what we want. Obama is putting the cart before the horse. If people don't have jobs they won't be able to pay for the so called "affordable healthcare" anyway, so whats the rush?

    March 3, 2010 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  24. Mary Osburn

    I think that the president has made the right decision on passing health care reform legislation. He has spent a year listening to the suggestions of everyone in the country and now tells us what he wants done, suggests a time line, and encourages congress to follow through.
    We need health insurance reform:
    1. it will improve our health as a nation, ER care is expensive, piecemeal and inadequate.
    2. it will help our unemployed part time employed and uninsured have much more freedom to job search or try self-employment.

    March 3, 2010 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  25. Bob in Pa

    The government should stay away from such a complete overhaul of the system as is. The current Progressive agendas economic cost alone will be enormous.
    Raising taxes and the cost of Health Insurance to the to the point where the vast majority of the middle class will barely be able to afford it anymore without drastic cuts in their home budgets. Their next step will be to install Cap and Trade raising Energy costs beyond the reach of many, creating additional economic hardships. The end result will be the Federal Government taking over these two sectors of the economy.

    You think you don’t know what the government does with your tax dollars now, just wait till they have Health Insurance and Energy profits in their wallet too.

    March 3, 2010 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
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