REMARKS BY PRESIDENT OBAMA
AND PRESIDENT MUBARAK OF EGYPT
DURING PRESS AVAILABILITY
12:28 P.M. EDT
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me, on behalf of the American people and my administration, welcome President Mubarak for his first visit since I’ve taken office. I want to publicly thank him for the extraordinary hospitality that he showed us when I traveled to Egypt and delivered my speech at Cairo University. It was an extraordinary visit, not only because of the great welcome that I received from the President and the college students who were in attendance, but also having an opportunity to visit the pyramids was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me.
The United States and Egypt have worked together closely for many years, and for many of those years President Mubarak has been a leader and a counselor and a friend to the United States. We obviously have a lot of great challenges that have to be dealt with and we are continuing to work together to find those areas where we can find common ground and to work in concert to bring peace and security to the region.
The Arab-Israeli situation is something that has been of ongoing interest and we had an extensive conversation about how we could help to jumpstart an effective process on all sides to move away from a status quo that is not working for the Israeli people, the Palestinian people, or, I think, the region as a whole.
We discussed our common concerns about the potential proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region, including the development of nuclear weapons by Iran, and how we could work together on those fronts. We discussed Iraq — and I want to thank the government of Egypt for being an Arab country that has moved forward to try to strengthen Iraq as it emerges from a wartime footing and a transition to a more stable democracy.
And we continued to talk about how we can work together on economic development issues, education issues, health issues, that can promote the interests of both the American people as well as the Egyptian people. Just to take one example, we have agreed to work together with the Organization of Islamic States to eradicate polio, something that we’ve been able to successfully deal with here in the United States but still has impact on populations throughout the Muslim communities around the world.
And so these are the kinds of partnerships that we want to continue to build. There are some areas where we still have disagreements, and where we do have disagreements we have a frank and honest exchange.
So I just want to say once again that I am grateful to President Mubarak for his visit, for his willingness to work with us on these critical issues, and to help advance the interest of peace and prosperity around the world.
Thank you very much. Welcome.
PRESIDENT MUBARAK: (As translated.) First of all, this is the third time that I meet with President Obama. The first time was in Cairo, when he came to give his address. It was a very strong address and it removed all doubts about the United States and the Muslim world. The importance of the Cairo visit was very appreciated by the Muslim and Islamic world because the Islamic world had thought that the U.S. was against Islam, but his great, fantastic address there has removed all those doubts.
That was the first time. Now, the second time where we met was in Italy during the G15 summit. We didn’t have much time to go in depth into discussions, but we did have some quick discussion.
The third time I meet with President Obama is here today at the White House. We have discussed an array of issues from our bilateral relations to the issues of the Middle East, the region, to the Palestinian issue, to the issue of Iran, Somalia, and the Africa Horn. Also, several other issues — even we discussed the issue of reform inside Egypt. And I told to President Obama very frankly and very friendly that I have entered into the elections based on a platform that included reforms, and therefore we have started to implement some of it and we still have two more years to implement it.
Our relations between us and the United States are very good relations and strategic relations. And despite some of the hoops that we had with previous administrations, this did not change the nature of our bilateral relations.
We have perhaps focused greatly on the Palestinian issue because it’s the pivotal issue. And the Palestinian issue has impact on the world, on the region, whether for the West or also for the United States.
We have also discussed the issue of Iran and the issue of nuclear Iran, and we talked about these issues very frankly.
And in conclusion of my remarks, I would like to thank President Obama for his welcome to me here at the White House and I also salute him as I did — and this is since five years — I also salute President Obama for all his efforts with regard to the Palestinian issue. Since his first day at the White House he started working on it. And I assured him that we will cooperate with him and we will be very strong in these efforts, whether with regard to the Palestinian issue or the other regional issues.
And I thank him again.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Okay, we’ve got one question each.
Q Both Presidents, if I may. Reports from Jerusalem today that the Israeli government has not given permission for any new settlements to be built, although ones that were in process are still in process — and I’m wondering if you have talked about that issue and if that’s the sort of thing that goes at least partway to meeting what you’re asking the Israelis to do. And also what’s in the West Bank and in Jerusalem.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: There has been movement in the right direction and I came in from the start saying that all parties concerned had to take some concrete steps to restart serious negotiations to resolve what has been a longstanding conflict that is not good for the Israeli people and is not good for its neighbors. And I think that the Israeli government has taken discussions with us very seriously. George Mitchell has been back and forth repeatedly; he will be heading back out there next week. And my hope is that we are going to see not just movement from the Israelis, but also from the Palestinians around issues of incitement and security, from Arab states that show their willingness to engage Israel.
If all sides are willing to move off of the rut that we’re in currently, then I think there is a extraordinary opportunity to make real progress. But we’re not there yet. I’m encouraged by some of the things I’m seeing on the ground. We’ve been seeing reports in the West Bank in particular that checkpoints have been removed in some situations. The security forces of the Palestinian Authority have greatly improved and have been able to deal with the security situation on the West Bank in a way that has inspired not just confidence among the Israeli people, but also among the Palestinian people.
There’s been some increased economic activity on the West Bank. All of this is creating a climate in which it’s possible for us to see some positive steps and hopefully negotiate towards a final resolution of these longstanding issues. But everybody is going to have to take steps; everybody is going to have to take some risks. It’s going to require a lot of hard work, and the United States is committed to being a partner in this process.
And Egypt will be as important as any other party in helping to move the process forward because Egypt is uniquely positioned in some ways having very strong relationships with Israel, with the Palestinians, and with other Arab states, and President Mubarak has as much experience in the region as anybody.
PRESIDENT MUBARAK: I would like to add on what President Obama has just said, and I say that we are trying and working on this goal to bring the two parties to sit together and to get something from the Israeli party and to get something from the Palestinian party. If we perhaps can get them to sit together, we will help.
And also, I have contacts with the Israeli party. I have received calls and contacts with the Prime Minister of Israel, with the head of the state, and also with the Minister of Defense. We are speaking in a good manner and we are moving into the right direction. But the two parties need to sit together, and this then will give hope that there is a possibility of finding a solution to the Palestinian issue, because it has been ongoing since 60 years. And with this issue ongoing, we lose a lot, and also this will increase violence. So we support the efforts of the United States to move towards finding a solution.
If this is the issue of Jerusalem that you are asking about, I tell you this is a complicated issue. Then — back then, a time ago, when we — at former President Clinton’s era, we almost neared finding an equation to find a solution for this issue. But afterwards, eight years afterwards, there was nothing and this issue moved very slowly. However, if we can find some solution to this, this would be helpful.
Q President Mubarak, you just mentioned about the 60 years conflict. You have been in that conflict as a warrior and as a peacemaker together for a long time. What’s different this time? It has been ups and downs, disappointments and achievements. What’s different this time? And are we going into another peace process, or are we going again heading for a final status kind of negotiations that finish that business?
And for President Obama, if you care to comment — President Mubarak said we cannot afford failure this time. What stands between us now and success?
PRESIDENT MUBARAK: As I said before, this is a complicated issue. I have worked a long time ago when I was in the army, and afterwards during my access of presidency. This issue has been ongoing 60 years. And we cannot afford wasting more time, because violence will increase, and violence has increased. The level of violence is now much more than it was 10 years ago. Therefore, we need to find — to move to the final status solution and level.
And I have contacted the Israelis, and they said perhaps you can talk about a temporary solution or perhaps the final status. But I told them, no, forget about the temporary solution and forget about temporary borders. That’s why I came today to talk to President Obama and to see that if we move forward on this issue, it will give more hope and more confidence to the people about this issue.
The negotiations of the final status will not be easy and it will be fraught of complications. This issue contains the issue of Jerusalem, the issue of refugees, the issue of the borders. But I believe that, in cooperation with the United States and through our relations with Israel, I believe that we can reach a solution, because the Arab people want peace and want a better life, and the Israeli people also want peace and stability in their lives.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I think President Mubarak said it well: It’s going to be difficult. I do believe that what may have changed — and this is what we have to test — is a growing realization on the part of the Palestinians that Israel is not going anywhere and is a fact, a reality that has to be dealt with; and a recognition on the part of the Israelis that their long-term security interests require finding an accommodation with the Palestinians and ultimately with their Arab neighbors. So the interests on both sides are towards peace.
Now, one of the things that you discover in studying history and being a part of politics is just because something makes sense doesn’t mean it happens. And we are going to have to work very hard. And ultimately there is going to have to be some courageous leadership not only from the Palestinians and the Israelis but also from the other Arab states to support this effort. And the United States is going to devote time and energy and resources to try to make this happen.
And what I can say as different from the United States’ perspective is that even in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, we started dealing with this issue on day one. We didn’t wait until year six or year seven, after I had been reelected before we started taking this on. We started dealing with this issue immediately, precisely because it’s a difficult issue that requires a lot of groundwork to be laid and sometimes proceeds in fits and starts. But with the partnership of countries like Egypt, we think we can make progress.
Okay, thank you, everybody.
Go ahead, please.
PRESIDENT MUBARAK: I believe that President Obama is talking about support from the Arab states to this issue. I would say here that if negotiations start, this will lead to the Arab state to support the peace process and to move it forward, because I can tell you that the Arab people are fed up with the length that this issue has taken, and the issue of the displaced people. So I believe if the two parties sit down, this will lead to have Arab state support moving the peace process forward.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you, everybody.
Remarks of President Barack Obama
As Prepared For Delivery
Fulfilling America’s Responsibility to Those Who Serve
Veterans of Foreign Wars
August 17, 2009
Thank you, Commander Gardner, for your introduction and for your lifetime of service. I was proud to welcome Glen and your executive director, Bob Wallace, to the Oval Office just before the Fourth of July, and I look forwarding to working with your next commander—Tommy Tradewell.
Let me also salute Jean Gardner and Sharon Tradewell, as well as Dixie Hild, Jan Title and all the spouses and family of the Ladies Auxiliary. America honors your service as well.
Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, I am honored and humbled to stand before you as Commander-in-Chief of the finest military the world has ever known. And we’re joined by some of those who make it the finest force in world—from Luke Air Force Base, members of the 56th Fighter Wing.
Whether you wear the uniform today, or wore it decades ago, you remind us of a fundamental truth. It’s not the powerful weapons that make our military the strongest in the world. It’s not the sophisticated systems that make us the most advanced. No, the true strength of our military lies in the spirit and skill of our men and women in uniform.
You know this. It is the story of your lives. When fascism seemed unstoppable and our harbor was bombed, you battled across rocky Pacific islands and stormed the beaches of Europe, marching across a continent—my own grandfather and uncle among your ranks—liberating millions and turning enemies into allies.
When communism cast its shadow across so much of the globe, you stood vigilant in a long Cold War—from an airlift in Berlin to the mountains of Korea to the jungles of Vietnam. When that Cold War ended and old hatreds emerged anew, you turned back aggression from Kuwait to Kosovo.
And long after you took off the uniform, you’ve continued to serve: supporting our troops and their families when they go to war and welcoming them when they come home; working to give our veterans the care they deserve; and when America’s heroes are laid to rest, giving every one that final fitting tribute of a grateful nation. We can never say it enough: for your service in war and in peace, thank you VFW.
Today, the story of your service is carried on by a new generation—dedicated, courageous men and women who I have the privilege to lead and meet every day.
They’re the young sailors—the midshipmen at the Naval Academy who raised their right hand at graduation and committed themselves to a life of service.
They’re the soldiers I met in Baghdad who have done their duty, year after year, on a second, third or fourth tour.
They’re the Marines of Camp Lejeune, preparing to deploy and now serving in Afghanistan to protect Americans here at home.
They’re the airmen, like those here today, who provide the close air support that saves the lives of our troops on the ground.
They’re the wounded warriors—at Landstuhl and Walter Reed and Bethesda and across America—for whom the battle is not to fight, but simply to speak, to stand, to walk once more.
They’re the families that my wife Michelle has met at bases across the country. The spouses back home doing the parenting of two. The children who wonder when mom or dad is coming home. The parents who watch their sons and daughters go off to war. The families who lay a loved one to rest—and the pain that lasts a lifetime.
To all those who have served America—our forces, your families, our veterans—you have done your duty. You have fulfilled your responsibilities. And now a grateful nation must fulfill ours. And that is what I want to talk about today.
First, we have a solemn responsibility to always lead our men and women in uniform wisely. This starts with a vision of American leadership that recognizes that military power alone cannot be the first or only answer to the threats facing our nation.
In recent years, our troops have succeeded in every mission America has given them, from toppling the Taliban to deposing a dictator in Iraq to battling brutal insurgencies. At the same time, forces trained for war have been called upon to perform a whole host of missions. Like mayors, they’ve run local governments and delivered water and electricity. Like aid workers, they’ve mentored farmers and built new schools. Like diplomats, they’ve negotiated agreements with tribal sheikhs and local leaders.
But let us never forget. We are a country of more than 300 million Americans. Less than one percent wears the uniform. And that one percent—our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen—have borne the overwhelming burden of our security. In fact, perhaps never in American history have so few protected so many.
The responsibility for our security must not be theirs alone. That is why I have made it a priority to enlist all elements of our national power in defense of our national security—our diplomacy and development, our economic might and our moral example. Because one of the best ways to lead our troops wisely is prevent the conflicts that cost American blood and treasure tomorrow.
As President, my greatest responsibility is the security and safety of the American people. As I’ve said before, this is the first thing that I think about when I wake up in the morning. It’s the last thing that I think about when I go to sleep at night. And I will not hesitate to use force to protect the American people or our vital interests.
But as we protect America, our men and women in uniform must always be treated as what they are: America’s most precious resource. As Commander-in-Chief I have a solemn responsibility for their safety. And there is nothing more sobering than signing a letter of condolence to the family of serviceman or woman who has given their life for our country.
That is why I have made this pledge to our armed forces: I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary. When I do, it will be based on good intelligence and guided by a sound strategy. And I will give you a clear mission, defined goals and the equipment and support you need to get the job done.
That is our second responsibility to our armed forces—giving them the resources and equipment and strategies to meet their missions. We need to keep our military the best trained, the best-led, the best-equipped fighting force in the world. That’s why—even with our current economic challenges—my budget increases defense spending.
We will ensure that we have the force structure to meet today’s missions. That is why we’ve increased the size of the Army and Marines Corps two years ahead of schedule and have approved another temporary increase in the Army. And we’ve halted personnel reductions in the Navy and Air Force. This will give our troops more time home between deployments, which means less stress on families and more training for the next mission. And it will help us put an end, once and for all, to stop-loss for those have done their duty.
We will equip our forces with the assets and technologies they need to fight and win. So my budget funds more of the Army helicopters, crews and pilots urgently needed in Afghanistan; the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance that gives our troops the advantage; the special operations forces that can deploy on a moment’s notice. And for all those serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, including our National Guard and Reserve, more of the protective gear and armored vehicles that saves lives.
As we fight in two wars, we will plan responsibly, budget honestly and speak candidly about the costs and consequences of our actions. That is why I’ve made sure my budget includes the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In Iraq, after more than six years of war, we took an important step forward in June. We transferred control of all cities and towns to Iraq’s security services. The transition to full Iraqi responsibility for their own security is now underway. This progress is a testament to all those who have served in Iraq, uniformed and civilian. And our nation owes these Americans—and all who have given their lives—a profound debt of gratitude.
As they take control of their destiny, Iraqis will be tested and targeted. Those who seek to sow sectarian division will attempt more senseless bombings, more killing of innocents. This we know.
But as we move forward, the Iraqi people must know that the United States will keep its commitments. And the American people must know that we will move forward with our strategy. We will begin removing our combat brigades from Iraq later this year. We will remove all our combat brigades by the end of next August. And we will remove all our troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. And for America, the Iraq war will end.
By moving forward in Iraq, we’re able to refocus on the war against al Qaeda and its extremist allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why I announced a new, comprehensive strategy in March. This strategy recognizes that al Qaeda and its allies had moved their base to the remote, tribal areas of Pakistan. This strategy acknowledges that military power alone will not win this war—that we also need diplomacy and development and good governance. And our new strategy has a clear mission and defined goals—to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies.
In the months since, we’ve begun to put this comprehensive strategy into action. And in recent weeks, we’ve seen our troops do their part. They’ve have gone into new areas—taking the fight to the Taliban in villages and towns where residents have been terrorized for years. They’re adopting new tactics, knowing that it’s not enough to kill extremists and terrorists; we also need to protect the Afghan people and improve their daily lives. And today, our troops are helping to secure polling places for this week’s election so Afghans can choose the future they want.
These new efforts have not been without a price. The fighting has been fierce. More Americans have given their lives. And as always, the thoughts and prayers of every American are with those who make the ultimate sacrifice in our defense.
As I said when I announced this strategy, there will be more difficult days ahead. The insurgency in Afghanistan didn’t just happen overnight. And we won’t defeat it overnight. This will not be quick. This will not be easy.
But we must never forget. This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people.
Going forward, we will constantly adapt our tactics to stay ahead of the enemy and give our troops the tools and equipment they need to succeed. And at every step of the way, we will assess our efforts to defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and to help the Afghan and Pakistani people build the future they seek.
Even as we lead and equip our troops for the missions of today, we have a third responsibility to fulfill. We must prepare our forces for the missions of tomorrow.
Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen adapt to new challenges everyday. But as we all know, much of our defense establishment has yet to fully adapt to the post-Cold War world, with doctrine and weapons better suited to fight the Soviets on the plains of Europe than insurgents in the rugged terrain of Afghanistan. Twenty years after the Cold War ended, this is not simply unacceptable. It is irresponsible. And our troops and taxpayers deserve better.
That is why our defense review is taking a top-to-bottom look at our priorities and posture, questioning conventional wisdom, rethinking old dogmas and challenging the status quo. We’re asking hard questions about the forces we need and the weapons we buy. And when we’re finished, we’ll have a new blueprint for the 21st century military we need. In fact, we’re already on our way.
We’re adopting new concepts—because the full spectrum of challenges demands a full range of military capabilities—the conventional and the unconventional, the ablilty to defeat both the armored division and the lone suicide bomber; the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile and the Improvised Explosive Device; 18th-century-style piracy and 21st century cyber threats. No matter the mission, we must maintain America’s military dominance.
So even as we modernize our conventional forces, we’re investing in the capabilities that will reorient our force of the future: an Army that is more mobile and expeditionary and missile defenses that protect our troops in the field; a Navy that not only projects power across the oceans but operates nimbly in shallow, coastal waters; an Air Force that dominates the airspace with next-generation aircraft—manned and unmanned; a Marine Corps that can move ashore more rapidly in more places. And across the force, we’re investing in new skills and specialties. Because in the 21st century, military strength will be measured not only by the weapons our troops carry, but by the languages they speak and the cultures they understand.
But here’s the simple truth. We can’t build the 21st century military we need—and maintain the fiscal responsibility that Americans demand—unless we fundamentally reform the way our defense establishment does business. It’s a simple fact. Every dollar wasted in our defense budget is a dollar we can’t spend to care for our troops, protect America or prepare for the future.
You know the story. The indefensible no-bid contracts that cost taxpayers billions and make contractors rich. The special interests and their exotic projects that are years behind schedule and billions over budget. The entrenched lobbyists pushing weapons that even our military says it doesn’t want. The impulse in Washington to protect jobs back home building things we don’t need at a cost we can’t afford.
This waste would be unacceptable at any time. But at a time when we’re fighting two wars and facing a serious deficit, it’s inexcusable. It’s unconscionable. It’s an affront to the American people and to our troops. And it’s time for it to stop.
This isn’t a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. It’s about giving our troops the support they need. And that’s something on which all Americans can agree. So I’m glad that I have a partner in this effort in a great veteran, a great Arizonan, and a great American who has shown the courage to stand and fight this waste—Senator John McCain. And I’m proud to have Secretary of Defense Robert Gates—who has served under eight presidents of both parties—leading this fight at the Pentagon.
Already, I’ve put an end to unnecessary no-bid contracts. I signed bipartisan legislation to reform defense procurement so weapons systems don’t spin out of control. And even as we increase spending on the equipment and weapons our troops do need, we have proposed cutting tens of billions of dollars in waste we don’t need.
Think about it. Hundreds of millions of dollars for an alternate second engine for the Joint Strike Fighter—when one reliable engine will do just fine. Nearly two billion dollars to buy more F-22 fighter jets when we can move ahead with a fleet of newer, more affordable aircraft. Tens of billions of dollars to put an anti-missile laser on a fleet of vulnerable 747s.
And billions of dollars for a new presidential helicopter. Maybe you heard about this. Among other capabilities, it would let me cook a meal while under nuclear attack. I’ll tell you something. If the United States of America is under nuclear attack, the last thing on my mind will be whipping up a snack.
It’s simple enough. Cut the waste. Save taxpayer dollars. Support the troops. But we all know how Washington works. The special interests, contractors and entrenched lobbyists are invested in the status quo. And they’re putting up a fight.
But make no mistake, so are we. If a project doesn’t support our troops, we will not fund it. If a system doesn’t perform, we will terminate it. And if Congress sends me a defense bill loaded with that kind of waste, I will veto it. We will do right by our troops and taxpayers. We will build the 21st century military we need.
Finally, we will fulfill our responsibility to those who serve by keeping our promises to our people.
We will fulfill our responsibility to our forces and families. That is why we’re increasing military pay, building better family housing and funding more childcare and counseling to help families cope with the stresses of war. And we’ve changed the rules so military spouses can better compete for federal jobs and pursue their careers.
We will fulfill our responsibility to our wounded warriors. For those still in uniform, we’re investing billions of dollars for more treatment centers, more case managers and better medical care so our troops can recover and return to where they want to be—with their units.
But for so many veterans the war rages on—the flashbacks that won’t go away, the loved ones who now seem like strangers, the heavy darkness of depression that has led too many of our troops to take their own lives. Post-Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury are the defining injuries of today’s wars. So caring for those affected by them is a defining purpose of my budget—billions of dollars for more treatment and mental health screening to reach our troops on the frontlines and more mobile and rural clinics to reach veterans back home. We will not abandon these American heroes.
We will fulfill our responsibility to our veterans as they return to civilian life. I was proud to co-sponsor the Post-9/11 GI Bill as a senator. Thanks to VFW members across the country—and leaders like Arizona’s Harry Mitchell in Congress—it’s now the law of the land. And as President, I’m committed to seeing that it is successfully implemented.
For so many of you, like my grandfather, the original GI Bill changed your life—helping you to realize your dreams. And it transformed America—helping to build the largest middle class in history. We’re saying the same thing to today’s Post-9/11 veterans—you pick the school, we’ll help pick up the bill.
And as these veterans start showing up on campuses, I’m proud that we’re making this opportunity available to all those who have sacrificed, including reservists and National Guard members and spouses and children, including kids who’ve lost their mom or dad. In an era when so many people and institutions have acted irresponsibly, we chose to reward the responsibility and service of our forces and their families.
Whether you left the service in 2009 or 1949, we will fulfill our responsibility to deliver the benefits and care that you earned. That’s why I’ve pledged to build nothing less than a 21st-century VA. And I picked a lifelong soldier and a wounded warrior from Vietnam to lead this fight—General Ric Shinseki.
We’re dramatically increasing funding for veterans health care. This includes hundreds of millions of dollars to serve veterans in rural areas as well as the unique needs of our growing number of women veterans. We’re restoring access to VA health care for a half-million veterans who lost their eligibility in recent years—our Priority 8 veterans.
And since there’s been so much misinformation out there about health insurance reform, let me say this. One thing that reform won’t change is veterans health care. No one is going to take away your benefits. That’s the truth.
We’re keeping our promise on concurrent receipt. My budget ensures that our severely disabled veterans will receive both their military retired pay and their VA disability benefits. And I look forward to signing legislation on advanced appropriations for the VA so that the medical care you need is never held up by budget delays.
I’ve also directed Secretary Shinseki to focus on a top priority—reducing homelessness among veterans. Because after serving their country, no veteran should be sleeping on the streets.
And we’re keeping our promise to fulfill another top priority at the VA—cutting the red tape and inefficiencies that cause backlogs and delays in the claims process. This spring, I directed the departments of defense and veterans affairs to create one unified lifetime electronic health record for members of the armed forces—a single electronic record, with privacy guaranteed, that will stay with them forever. Because after fighting for America, you shouldn’t have to fight over paperwork to receive the benefits you earned.
Today, I can announce that we’re taking another step. I have directed my Chief Performance Officer, my Chief Technology Officer and my Chief Information Officer to join with Secretary Shinseki in a new reform effort. We’re launching a new competition to capture the very best ideas of our VA employees who work with you every day.
We’re going to challenge each of our 57 regional VA offices to come up with the best ways of doing business, harnessing the best information technologies, breaking through the bureaucracy.
And then we’re going to fund the best ideas and put them into action. All with a simple mission—cut those backlogs, slash those wait times and deliver your benefits sooner. I know, you’ve heard this for years. But with the leadership and resources we’re providing, I know we can do this. And that is our mission.
Taken together, these investments represent an historic increase in our commitment to America’s veterans—a 15 percent increase over last year’s funding levels and the largest increase in the VA budget in more than 30 years. And over the next five years we’ll invest another $25 billion more.
These are major investments, and these are difficult times. Fiscal discipline demands that we make hard decisions—sacrificing certain things we cannot afford. But let me be clear. America’s commitments to its veterans are not just lines in a budget. They are bonds that are sacrosanct—a sacred trust we are honor bound to uphold. And we will.
These are the commitments we make to the patriots who serve—from the day they enlist to the day they are laid to rest. Patriots like you. Patriots like Jim Norene.
His story is his own, but in it we see the larger story of all who serve. A child of the Depression who grew up to join that greatest generation. A paratrooper in the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne. Jumping in a daring daylight raid into Holland to liberate a captive people. Rushing to Bastogne at the Battle of the Bulge where his commanding general—surrounded by the Germans and asked to surrender—declared, famously, “Nuts.”
For his bravery, Jim was awarded the Bronze Star. But like so many others, he rarely spoke of what he did or what he saw—reminding us that true love of country is not boisterous or loud but, rather, the “tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”
He returned home and built a life. Went to school on the GI Bill. Got married. Raised a family in his small Oregon farming town. And every Veterans Day, year after year, he visited schoolchildren to speak about the meaning of service. And he did it all as a proud member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Then, this spring, Jim made a decision. He would return to Europe once more. Eighty-five years old, frail and gravely ill, he knew he might not make it back home. But like the paratrooper he always was, he was determined.
Near Bastogne, he returned to the places he knew so well. At a Dutch town liberated by our GIs, schoolchildren lined the sidewalks and sang The Star-Spangled Banner. And in the quiet clearing of an American cemetery, he walked among those perfect lines of white crosses of fellow soldiers who had fallen long ago, their names forever etched in stone.
Then—back where he had served 65 years before—Jim Norene passed away. At night. In his sleep. Quietly. Peacefully. The “tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”
The next day, I was privileged to join the commemoration at Normandy to mark that day when the beaches were stormed and a continent was freed. There were presidents and prime ministers and veterans from the far corners of the earth. But long after the bands stopped playing and the crowds stopped cheering, it was the story of a departed VFW member that echoed in our hearts.
Veterans of Foreign Wars, you have done your duty—to your fallen comrades, to your communities, to your country. You’ve always fulfilled your responsibilities to America. And so long as I am President, America will always fulfill its responsibilities to you.
God bless you. God bless all our veterans. And God bless the United States of America.
President Obama is continuing the debate for universal health care reform today by stopping in Grand Junction, Colorado. Below is a statement from the President, as prepared for delivery:
REMARKS BY PRESIDENT OBAMA AT GRAND JUNCTION, CO HEALTH CARE TOWN HALL
Hello, Grand Junction! It’s great to be back in Southwest Colorado. And it’s nice to take a break from the back and forth in Washington. I especially want to thank Nathan for his introduction. I appreciate your willingness to talk about such a painful experience, because it’s important that we understand what’s at stake in this health care debate. These are the kinds of stories I’ve read in letters and heard in town halls all across America.
On Tuesday, I was in New Hampshire talking about the people denied insurance coverage because of preexisting conditions. Yesterday, I was in Montana talking about people who’ve had their insurance policies suddenly revoked, even though they were paying premiums, just because they got sick. And today we’re talking about the folks like Nathan and his family who have insurance but are still stuck with huge bills because they’ve hit a cap on their benefits or are charged exorbitant out-of-pocket fees.
And when you hear about these experiences, when you think of the millions of people denied coverage because of preexisting conditions, the thousands who have their policies cancelled because of illness, the countless folks like Nathan, I want you to remember one thing: there but for the grace of God go I. These are ordinary Americans, no different than anyone else, held hostage by health insurance companies that deny them coverage, or drop their coverage, or charge fees that they can’t afford for care they desperately need.
It’s wrong. It’s hurting too many families and businesses. And we’re going to fix it when we pass health insurance reform this year.
Now, this is obviously a tough time for families in Colorado and across America. Just six months ago, we were in the middle of the worst recession of our lifetimes. We were losing about 700,000 jobs each month. Economists of all stripes feared a second coming of the Great Depression. That’s why we acted as fast as we could to pass a recovery plan to stop the freefall.
The recovery plan was divided into three parts. One third of the money in the Recovery Act went to tax cuts that have already started showing up in the paychecks of nearly 2 million working families in Colorado. We also cut taxes for small businesses on the investments that they make, and hundreds of Colorado small businesses have qualified for new loans backed by the Recovery Act – including eleven businesses in Grand Junction alone.
Another third of the money in the Recovery Act is for emergency relief for folks who’ve borne the brunt of this recession. We’ve extended unemployment benefits for more than 150,000 Coloradans. We’ve made health insurance 65 percent cheaper for families who rely on COBRA while they’re looking for work. And for states facing historic budget shortfalls, we provided assistance that has saved the jobs of tens of thousands of workers who provide essential services, like teachers and police officers. We’ve prevented painful jobs cuts – and a lot of painful state and local tax increases.
The last third of the Recovery Act is for investments that are already putting people back to work. There are almost 100 shovel-ready transportation projects already approved in Colorado which are beginning to create jobs. Not far from here, for example, there’s a project to pave and add lanes to State Highway 92. And most of the work is being done by local businesses, because that’s how we’re going to create jobs and grow this economy again.
By next month, projects will be underway at more than one hundred national parks all over America, including Colorado. These are projects restoring trails, improving infrastructure, making park facilities more energy efficient. Earlier today, I toured Yellowstone with Michelle and the girls. Tomorrow, we’ll be visiting the Grand Canyon. And I recently signed into law a public lands bill that designated the Dominguez-Escalante Canyon as a National Conservation Area here in Colorado. These are national treasures – symbols of how much we owe to those who came before us. And as we grapple with enormous challenges – like health care – the work of generations past reminds us of our duty to generations yet to come.
So there is no doubt that the recovery plan is doing what we said it would: putting us on the road to recovery. We saw last week that the jobs picture is beginning to turn. We’re starting to see signs that business investment is coming back. But that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods. Even before this recession we had an economy that was working pretty well for the wealthiest Americans – working pretty well for Wall Street bankers and big corporations – but it wasn’t working so well for everybody else. It was an economy of bubbles and busts. It was an economy that rewarded recklessness over responsibility. We cannot go back to that kind of economy.
If we want this country to succeed in the 21st century then we have to lay a new foundation for lasting prosperity. And health insurance reform is a key pillar of this new foundation. Because this economy won’t work for everyone until folks like Nathan and his family aren’t pushed to the brink by medical expenses; until companies aren’t slashing payroll and losing profits to pay for health insurance; until every single American has the security and peace of mind of quality, affordable health care.
Health care touches all of our lives in a profound way. It’s only natural that this debate is an emotional one. And I know there’s been a lot of attention paid to some of the town hall meetings that are going on around the country – especially those where tempers have flared. You know how TV loves a ruckus.
But what you haven’t seen are the many constructive meetings going on all over the country. Just yesterday I held a town hall in Belgrade, Montana. And we had a pretty good crowd. Some folks were big supporters of reform. Some had concerns and questions. And some were downright skeptical. I got a few tough questions, too. But I was glad to see that even though Montanans have strong opinions, they weren’t there to shout at one another. They were there to listen to one another.
I think that reflects the American people far more than what we’ve seen covered on television these past few days. And I thank you for coming here today in that spirit. But before I take your questions, I want to talk about what health insurance reform will mean for you. First of all, there will be a set of common-sense consumer protections for folks with health insurance.
Insurance companies will no longer be able to place an arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive or charge outrageous out-of-pocket expenses on top of your premiums. This is what happened to Nathan and his wife. Their son was diagnosed with hemophilia when he was born. The insurance company then raised premiums for his family and for all his coworkers who were on the same policy. And the family was approaching their cap. So on top of the worry about taking care of their son, they’ve had the added worry of trying to find insurance that would cover him – plus thousands and thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs. Nathan and his wife even considered getting a divorce so that she could go on Medicaid. Thankfully, Colorado law doesn’t allow coverage for small businesses to permanently exclude preexisting conditions like his son’s, so they found insurance. But they’re paying increasing premiums and they still face the prospect of hitting their new cap in the next few years.
I’ve heard stories like this all over the country. Like the teenager from Indiana diagnosed with leukemia. The chemotherapy and intensive care he received cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. His family hit their lifetime cap in less than a year. So the insurance wouldn’t cover a bone marrow transplant and the family couldn’t afford the half a million dollars they needed. The family turned to the public for help, but the boy died before he could receive that transplant.
If you think this can’t happen to you or your family, think again. Almost 90 percent of individual health insurance policies have lifetime benefit limits. About a third of family plans in the individual insurance market have lifetime limits under $3 million. If you or your spouse or your child get sick, and you hit that limit, suddenly it’s like you have no insurance at all.
And this is part of a larger story: of folks with insurance paying more and more out-of-pocket. In the past few years, premiums have nearly doubled. And total out of pocket costs have increased by almost fifty percent – that’s more than $2,000 per person. No one is holding the insurance companies accountable for these practices. But we will. We’re going to ban arbitrary caps on benefits. And we’ll place limits on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses. No one in America should go broke because they get sick.
Insurance companies will also be stopped from cancelling coverage because you get sick or denying coverage because of your medical history. A recent report found that in the past few years, more than 12 million Americans were discriminated against by insurance companies because of a preexisting condition. When we get health insurance reform done, those days will be over. And we will require insurance companies to cover routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies. That saves money and that saves lives.
At the same time, if you like your health care plan, you can keep your health plan. If you like your doctor, you can keep seeing your doctor. I don’t want government bureaucrats meddling in your health care – but the point is, I don’t want insurance company bureaucrats meddling in your health care either. So if you’re one of the nearly 46 million people who don’t have health insurance, you will finally have quality, affordable options. And if you do have health insurance, we will help make that insurance more affordable and more secure. Under reform, roughly 700,000 middle-class Coloradans will get a health care tax credit. More than a million Coloradans will have access to a new marketplace where you can easily compare health insurance options. 87,000 small businesses in Colorado will be aided by new tax benefits. And we do all of this without adding to our deficit over the next decade, largely but cutting waste and ending sweetheart deals for insurance companies that don’t make anybody any healthier.
Here in Grand Junction, you know that lowering costs is possible if you put in place smarter incentives; if you think about how to treat people, not just illnesses; if you look at problems facing not just one hospital or physician, but the many system-wide problems that are shared. That’s what the medical community in this city did; now you are getting better results while wasting less money. And I know that your Senator, Michael Bennet, has been working hard on legislation that’s based on the innovations put into practice here.
The fact is, we are closer to achieving health insurance reform than we have ever been. We have the American Nurses Association and the American Medical Association on board – because America’s doctors and nurses know how badly we need reform. We have broad agreement in Congress on about 80 percent of what we’re trying to achieve. And we have an agreement from the drug companies to make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors. The AARP supports this policy, and agrees with us that reform must happen this year.
Because we are getting close, the fight is getting fierce. The history is clear: every time we are in sight of health insurance reform, the special interests fight back with everything they’ve got. They use their influence. They run their ads. They use their political allies to scare the American people. In fact, whenever America has set about solving our toughest problems, there have been those who have sought to preserve the status quo. And these struggles have always boiled down to a contest between hope and fear. That was true when Social Security was born. That was true when Medicare was created. It is true in this debate today.
But whether you have health insurance or not, we all know that we cannot continue down this path, with costs rising far faster than wages and cuts in care to make up the difference: a system that too often works better for the insurance companies than it does for the American people. That’s why reform is so important: to maintain what’s best about our health care system – the relationship between doctors, nurses, and their patients – while fixing what’s broken.
Because for all the scare tactics out there, what is truly scary is if we do nothing. We will continue to see 14,000 Americans lose their health insurance every day. Premiums will continue to skyrocket, rising three times faster than wages. The deficit will continue to grow. Medicare will go into the red in less than a decade. And insurance companies will continue to profit by discriminating against people simply for being sick.
So if you want a different future – a brighter future – I need your help. I need you to stand against the politics of fear and division. I need you to knock on doors and spread the word. I need you to fight for the security and stability of quality, affordable health care for every American. For we know that change never starts in Washington. It starts in places like Grand Junction. It starts with folks willing to fight for our future. It starts with you.
Thank you. And now, I’d be happy to take your questions.
President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address Discusses Health Care Reform In America – Transcript (Full, As Prepared For Delivery)
Remarks of President Barack Obama
Saturday, August 15th, 2009
This week, I’ve been traveling across our country to discuss health insurance reform and to hear directly from folks like you – your questions, your concerns, and your stories.
Now, I know there’s been a lot of attention paid to some of the town hall meetings that are going on around the country, especially those where tempers have flared. You know how TV loves a ruckus.
But what you haven’t seen – because it’s not as exciting – are the many constructive meetings going on all over the country where Americans are airing their hopes and concerns about this very important issue.
I’ve been holding some of my own, and the stories I’ve heard have really underscored why I believe so strongly that health insurance reform is a challenge we can’t ignore.
They’re stories like Lori Hitchcock’s, who I met in New Hampshire this week. Lori’s got a pre-existing condition, so no insurance company will cover her. She’s self-employed, and in this economy, she can’t find a job that offers health care, so she’s been uninsured for two years.
Or they’re stories like Katie Gibson’s, who I met in Montana. When Katie tried to change insurance companies, she was sure to list her pre-existing conditions on the application and even called her new company to confirm she’d be covered. Two months later, she was dropped – after she’d already gone off her other insurance.
These are the stories that aren’t being told – stories of a health care system that works better for the insurance industry than it does for the American people. And that’s why we’re going to pass health insurance reform that finally holds the insurance companies accountable.
But now’s the hard part. Because the history is clear – every time we come close to passing health insurance reform, the special interests with a stake in the status quo use their influence and political allies to scare and mislead the American people.
As an example, let’s look at one of the scarier-sounding and more ridiculous rumors out there – that so-called “death panels” would decide whether senior citizens get to live or die. That rumor began with the distortion of one idea in a Congressional bill that would allow Medicare to cover voluntary visits with your doctor to discuss your end-of-life care – if and only if you decide to have those visits. It had nothing to do with putting government in control of your decisions; in fact, it would give you all the information you need – if you want it – to put you in control of your decisions. When a conservative Republican Senator who has long-fought for even more far-reaching proposals found out how folks were twisting the idea, he called their misrepresentation, and I quote, “nuts.”
So when folks with a stake in the status quo keep inventing these boogeymen in an effort to scare people, it’s disappointing, but it’s not surprising. We’ve seen it before. When President Roosevelt was working to create Social Security, opponents warned it would open the door to “federal snooping” and force Americans to wear dog tags. When President Kennedy and President Johnson were working to create Medicare, opponents warned of “socialized medicine.” Sound familiar? Not only were those fears never realized, but more importantly, those programs have saved the lives of tens of millions of seniors, the disabled, and the disadvantaged.
Those who would stand in the way of reform will say almost anything to scare you about the cost of action. But they won’t say much about the cost of inaction. If you’re worried about rationed care, higher costs, denied coverage, or bureaucrats getting between you and your doctor, then you should know that’s what’s happening right now. In the past three years, over 12 million Americans were discriminated against by insurance companies due to a preexisting condition, or saw their coverage denied or dropped just when they got sick and needed it most. Americans whose jobs and health care are secure today just don’t know if they’ll be next to join the 14,000 who lose their health insurance every single day. And if we don’t act, average family premiums will keep rising to more than $22,000 within a decade.
On the other hand, here’s what reform will mean for you.
First, no matter what you’ve heard, if you like your doctor or health care plan, you can keep it. If you don’t have insurance, you’ll finally be able to afford insurance. And everyone will have the security and stability that’s missing today.
Insurance companies will be prohibited from denying you coverage because of your medical history, dropping your coverage if you get sick, or watering down your coverage when it counts – because there’s no point in having health insurance if it’s not there when you need it.
Insurance companies will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or lifetime, and we will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses – because no one in America should go broke just because they get sick.
Finally, we’ll require insurance companies to cover routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies – because there’s no reason we shouldn’t be saving lives and dollars by catching diseases like breast cancer and prostate cancer on the front end.
That’s what reform means. For all the chatter and the noise out there, what every American needs to know is this: If you don’t have health insurance, you will finally have quality, affordable options once we pass reform. If you do have health insurance, we will make sure that no insurance company or government bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need. And we will deliver this in a fiscally responsible way.
I know there’s plenty of real concern and skepticism out there. I know that in a time of economic upheaval, the idea of change can be unsettling, and I know that there are folks who believe that government should have no role at all in solving our problems. These are legitimate differences worthy of the real discussion that America deserves – one where we lower our voices, listen to one another, and talk about differences that really exist. Because while there may be disagreements over how to go about it, there is widespread agreement on the urgent need to reform a broken system and finally hold insurance companies accountable.
Nearly fifty years ago, in the midst of the noisy early battles to create what would become Medicare, President Kennedy said, “I refuse to see us live on the accomplishments of another generation. I refuse to see this country, and all of us, shrink from these struggles which are our responsibility in our time.” Now it falls to us to meet the challenges of our time. And if we can come together, and listen to one another; I believe, as I always have, that we will rise to this moment, we will build something better for our children, and we will secure America’s future in this new century.
BREAKING NEWS: John Edwards: “I AM The Father!” Sources Say Edward Will Publicly Admit That He Fathered A Child With Former Mistress!
A full year after former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards publicly admitted to having an affair with a member of his campaign staff, sources close to Edwards dish that he will now admit that a child was produced from that relationship.
Speculation as to the paternity of videographer and former Edwards’ aide Rielle Hunter’s eighteen month old daughter, Frances, was the fire that fueled the rumor mill for months in 2007 and 2008 when pictures surfaced showing a smiling John Edwards holding the baby girl. Soon after, Edwards admitted having an affair with Rielle Hunter but was cagey in his response as to whether he was the father of her child.
Elizabeth Edwards was asked recently on the “Oprah Show” what she would do if hypothetically the child in question was actually her husband’s. She commented that as far as she knew the child was not John’s and that if it was, it meant nothing to her and her world. Very confusing answer that really didn’t make any sense to Oprah or the viewing audience. Perhaps it was the shock of the situation that was speaking and not Elizabeth Edwards. How could she not be shocked and heart-broken to learn that her loving husband stepped out on her while she battled terminal cancer?
Wouldn’t it had been easier on the Edwards family if John Edwards would have just openly admitted that he had an affair and a child was conceived from it? Why all of this miniseries drama? It is not like the public believed Edwards anyway when he denied, or attempted to deny parenting Rielle Hunter’s child.
Well, if and when John Edwards holds a press conference to disclose this ‘revelation,’ who is going to really care at this point? The main idea is owning up to responsiblity and repairing the marriage. Elizabeth Edwards says that process has already begun. If that is the case, then she knew the whole truth from the start and was forced to publicly lie about what she knew.
All this double talk gives us a whopper migraine! Guess its all in the game.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
IN TOWN HALL ON HEALTH CARE
Gallatin Field Airport
12:05 P.M. MDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Montana! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. It’s great to be here. Please, everybody have a seat, have a seat. Thank you so much. Thank you. I am excited to be back in Montana. (Applause.) I want to –
Q Where’s Michelle?
THE PRESIDENT: where’s Michelle? Come on, what is this, chopped liver here? (Laughter.) Michelle and the girls were supposed to go white water rafting. Now, I just heard some rain out there, so I don’t know what’s going on there, but they’re on their way.
I want to first of all acknowledge some outstanding public officials and great friends. First of all, the man who is working tirelessly to make sure that the American people get a fair deal when it comes to health care in America, please give Max Baucus a big round of applause. (Applause.) One of my favorite people in Washington, probably because he hasn’t “gone Washington” — still gets the same haircut, give it up for John Tester. (Applause.) Your own star here in Montana, the great governor of this state, please give Brian Schweitzer and his lovely wife Nancy a big round of applause. (Applause.) The lieutenant governor, John Bohlinger, is here. Give John a big round of applause. (Applause.) The mayor of Belgrade, Russ Nelson, is here. (Applause.) The mayor of Bozeman, Kaaren Jacobson is here. And somebody who I believe is destined to be one of the greatest Secretaries of the Interior in our history, former senator from Colorado, Ken Salazar, is here. Please give Ken a big round of applause. (Applause.)
Well, it is nice to be back. It’s nice to take a break from the going ons in Washington. I’m thrilled to have a chance to spend some time with the folks in this beautiful state. After all, here in Montana you’ve got bears and moose and elk. In Washington you just have mostly bull. (Laughter.) So this is a — (applause) — this is a nice change of pace, being in Montana.
I especially want to thank Katie for her introduction. (Applause.) Where’d Katie go? There she is, right there. Katie’s willingness to talk about such a painful experience is important, because we have to understand what’s at stake in this health care debate. Katie’s story is the kind of story that I’ve read in letters all throughout the campaign and everyday when I’m President. I hear about them in town halls all across America: The stories of hardworking people who are doing the right thing, they’re acting responsibly, only to find out that they’re penalized because others aren’t doing the right thing, because others aren’t acting responsibly.
On Tuesday, I was in New Hampshire talking about people denied insurance coverage because of preexisting conditions. Now today, we’re talking about folks like Katie who’ve had their insurance policies suddenly revoked, even though they were paying premiums, because of a medical condition. They got sick, and suddenly that’s when they get dropped. Tomorrow, in Colorado, we’ll be talking about the people who have insurance but are still stuck with huge bills because they’ve hit a cap on their benefits or they’re charged exorbitant out-of-pocket fees.
And when you hear about these experiences, when you think of the millions of people denied coverage because of preexisting conditions, when you think about the thousands who have their policies cancelled each year, like Katie, I want you to remember one thing: There but for the grace of God go I. (Applause.) Most of us have insurance. And most of us think, you know, knock on wood, that we’re going to stay healthy. But we’re no different than Katie and other ordinary Americans, no different than anybody else. We are held hostage at any given moment by health insurance companies that deny coverage, or drop coverage, or charge fees that people can’t afford at a time when they desperately need care.
It’s wrong. It’s bankrupting families, it’s bankrupting businesses. And we are going to fix it when we pass health insurance reform this year. We are going to fix it. (Applause.) Again, I want to specially thank Max for his hard work on a bill as chair of the Finance Committee. He has been committed to getting this done.
This is obviously a tough time in America. It’s a tough time here in Montana. Just six months ago, we were in the middle of the worst recession in our lifetimes. We were losing about 700 [sic] jobs each month. Economists of all stripes feared a second coming of a Great Depression. And that’s why we acted as fast as we could to pass a recovery plan to stop the freefall.
I want to just speak briefly about the recovery plan because that has colored how people view the health care debate. The recovery plan was divided into three parts. One-third of the money in the Recovery Act went to tax cuts that have already started showing up in the paychecks of about 400,000 working families in Montana. Four hundred thousand working families have seen their taxes reduced because of the Recovery Act. (Applause.)
We also cut taxes for small businesses on the investments that they make, and more than 200 Montana small businesses have now qualified for new loans backed by the Recovery Act, including 10 businesses right in the Bozeman area. (Applause.)
Another third of the money in the Recovery Act is for emergency relief for folks who’ve borne the brunt of this recession. What am I talking about? Unemployment insurance — we’ve extended benefits for 40,000 Montana residents. We’ve made health insurance 65 percent cheaper for families who rely on COBRA when they lose their job and they’re out there looking for work. (Applause.) And I think as your governor will testify, for states facing historic budget shortfalls, we provided assistance that has saved the jobs of tens of thousands of workers who provide essential services, like teachers and police officers. We’ve prevented painful jobs cuts, but we’ve also prevented a lot of painful state and local tax increases.
So that’s two-thirds of the Recovery Act.
The last third of the Recovery Act is for investments that are already putting people back to work: rebuilding infrastructure. There are nearly 70 transportation projects already approved here in Montana. These are jobs fixing up the roads that run through the national forests, good jobs doing the work that America needs done. And most of the work is being done by local businesses, because that’s how we’re going to get this economy growing again.
So there is no doubt that the recovery plan is doing what we said it would: putting us on the road to recovery. We saw last Friday the jobs picture is beginning to turn. We’re starting to see signs that business investment is coming back. So people, I think, sometimes when I listen to them on TV or on these cable shows, they seem to have a selective memory. We started with this mess. We’re now pulling out of it. But that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods. (Applause.) That doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods. You know that. In Bozeman, for example, the local job center recently reported seeing more than 8,000 job seekers for just 160 jobs.
So we can’t just sit back and do nothing while families are struggling. Because even before this recession hit, we had an economy that was working pretty well for the wealthiest Americans — working pretty well for Wall Street bankers and big corporations — but it wasn’t working so well for everybody else. It was an economy of bubbles and busts. It was an economy in which recklessness, and not responsibility, was rewarded. We can’t go back to that kind of economy.
If we want a country that succeeds in the 21st century then we have to lay a new foundation for lasting prosperity. And health insurance reform is one of the key pillars of this new foundation. (Applause.) This economy won’t work for everyone until folks like Katie and her husband can start that small business without fear of losing their health coverage; until companies aren’t slashing payroll and losing profits to pay for health insurance; until every single American has the security and the peace of mind of knowing they’ve got quality, affordable care.
And the fact is, health care touches all of our lives in a profound way. Now, that also makes this debate an emotional one. I know there’s been a lot of attention paid to some of the town hall meetings that are going on around the country, especially when tempers flare – TV loves a ruckus.
What you haven’t seen on TV — and what makes me proud — are the many constructive meetings going on all over the country. Everywhere — everywhere across the country, you’re seeing people who are coming together and having a civil, honest — often difficult — conversation about how we can improve the system. That’s how democracy is supposed to work.
Earlier this week, I held a town hall in New Hampshire. A few thousand people showed up. Some were big supporters of health insurance reform, some had concerns and questions, some were downright skeptical — didn’t believe it could be done. But I was glad to see that people were there not to shout, they were there to listen and ask questions. That reflects America a lot more than what we’ve seen covered on television for the last few days — and I want to thank you for coming here today in that spirit. (Applause.)
Now, before I take questions, I just want to talk briefly about what health insurance reform will mean for you. We still have work to do in Congress. The bills aren’t finalized. But I just want you to understand about 80 percent of this has already been agreed to. And here are the basic principles that folks are talking about.
First, health insurance reform will mean a set of common-sense consumer protections for folks with health insurance. So those of you who have health insurance, this is what it will mean. Insurance companies will no longer be able to cancel your coverage because you get sick. (Applause.) That’s what happened to Katie. It can’t happen anymore.
If you do the responsible thing, if you pay your premiums each month so that you are covered in case of a crisis, when that crisis comes — if you have a heart attack or your husband finds out he has cancer or your son or daughter is rushed to the hospital — at the time when you’re most vulnerable and most frightened, you can’t be getting a phone call from your insurance company saying that your insurance is revoked. It turns out, once you got sick, they scoured your records looking for reasons to cancel your policy. They’d find a minor mistake on your insurance form that you submitted years ago. That can’t be allowed to happen. (Applause.)
One report — one report found that three insurance companies alone had canceled 20,000 policies in this way over the past few years. One man from Illinois lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because his insurer discovered he hadn’t reported gall stones he didn’t know about. True story. Because his treatment was delayed, he died. A woman from Texas was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, was scheduled for a double mastectomy. Three days before surgery, the insurance company canceled the policy, in part because she forgot to declare a case of acne. True story. By the time she had her insurance reinstated, the cancer had more than doubled in size.
And this is personal for me. I’ll never forget my own mother, as she fought cancer in her final months, having to worry about whether the insurance company would refuse to pay for her treatment. The insurance company was arguing that she should have known that she had cancer when she took her new job — even though it hadn’t been diagnosed yet. If it could happen to her, it could happen to any one of us. It’s wrong. And when we pass health insurance reform, we’re going to put a stop to it once and for all. That is what Max Baucus is working on. (Applause.)
Number two: Insurance companies will be prohibited from denying coverage because of your medical history. A recent report found that in the past three years, more than 12 million Americans were discriminated against by insurance companies because of a preexisting condition. No one holds these companies accountable for these practices. But we will.
And insurance companies will no longer be able to place an arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime. (Applause.) And that will help — that will help 3,700 households in Montana. We’ll place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses, as well, because no one in America should be broke when they get sick. (Applause.) And finally — finally, we’ll require insurance companies to cover routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies, because that saves money and that saves lives. (Applause.)
So that’s what health care reform is all about. Right now we’ve got a health care system that all too often works better for the insurance companies than it does for the American people. We want to change that.
Now, if you are one of nearly 46 million people who don’t have health insurance, you’ll finally have quality affordable options. And if you do have health insurance, we’ll help make sure that your insurance is more affordable and more secure. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. This is not some government takeover. If you like your doctor, you can keep seeing your doctor. This is important. I don’t want government bureaucrats meddling in your health care, but I also don’t want insurance company bureaucrats meddling in your health care either. (Applause.) That’s what reform is about. (Applause.)
Now, let me say this: Under the proposals that Max is working on, more than 100,000 middle-class Montanans will get a health care tax credit. More than 200,000 Montanans will have access to a new marketplace where you can easily compare health insurance options. Nearly 30,000 small businesses in Montana will be helped by new tax benefits, as well. (Applause.) And we will do all this without adding to our deficit over the next decade, largely by cutting waste and ending sweetheart deals for insurance companies that don’t make anybody any healthier. (Applause.)
So the fact is, we are closer to achieving health insurance reform than we’ve ever been in history. We have the American Nurses Association and the American Medical Association on board because America’s doctors and nurses know how badly we need reform. We have broad agreement in Congress on about 80 percent of what we’re trying to achieve. And we continue to work on the other 20 percent. We have an agreement from the drug companies, who violently opposed reform in the past, to make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors. The AARP supports this policy, and agrees with us that reform must happen this year.
But because we’re getting close, the fight is getting fierce. And the history is clear: Every time we are in sight of health insurance reform, the special interests fight back with everything they’ve got. They use their influence, they run their ads, and their political allies try to scare the heck out of everybody. It happened in ’93. It’s happening now. It happened, by the way, when Lyndon Johnson tried to propose Medicare. It happened when John F. Kennedy tried to propose Medicare.
We can’t let them do it again. Not this time. (Applause.) Because for all the scare tactics out there — for all the scare tactics out there, what is truly scary — what’s truly risky — is if we do nothing. If we keep the system the way it is right now, we will continue to see 14,000 Americans lose their health insurance every day. And that could be you. Premiums will continue to skyrocket, rising three times faster than wages. That will be you. The deficit will continue to grow. Medicare will go into the red in less than a decade.
So for all the seniors out there who understandably are worried about Medicare, understand if we don’t reform the system, in about eight years Medicare goes in the red. And given the deficits that we have right now, we’ve got to start thinking how are we going to pay for that. Insurance companies will continue to profit by discriminating against people for being sick.
So if you want a different future — a brighter future — I need your help. Change is never easy — and by the way, it never starts in Washington. It starts with you. So I need you to keep knocking on doors, talking to your neighbors, spread the facts. (Applause.) Fight against the fear. This is not about politics; this is about helping the American people, and if we can get it done this year, the American people are going to be better off.
Thank you, Montana. Thank you. (Applause.)
All right, everybody have a seat. So we are going to try to take as many questions as we can in the time that we’ve got. And we haven’t pre-selected anybody, or pre-screened the questions. All we want to do is just ask you to raise your hand if you’ve got a question. And I’m going to go girl-boy-girl-boy so I don’t get into trouble. (Laughter.)
There are — there are people in the audience with microphones, as you can see. And so if you can — once I call on you, if you can just wait until they bring the microphone, stand up so we can all see your lovely face, and introduce yourself, and then I will ask — I will answer the question. And if you can keep your questions relatively brief, I’ll try to keep my answers relatively brief.
All right, this young lady right here in the blue blouse. Right there.
Q Hi, Mr. President. Thank you so much for coming to Southwest Montana. We really appreciate you being here. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Q I was laid off in January. I am currently uninsured. My two children have Medicaid right now. And my question is, without going into too much detail, can you tell us what you — if you have kind of looked at Canada, England’s system, and sort of — can you pick and choose from those systems that work, that we see there’s some success rate and apply that to what you’re trying to push through right now?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me tell you what happens in other industrialized countries. First of all, I think it’s important for everybody to understand that Americans spend $5,000 to $6,000 per person more than any other advanced nation on earth — $5,000 or $6,000 more than any other person — any other country on earth.
Now, if you think that — how can that be? Well, you probably don’t notice it, because what’s happening is if you’ve got health insurance through your job, more and more of what would be your salary and wages is going to health insurance. But you don’t notice it; you just notice that you’re not getting a raise. But a bigger and bigger portion of compensation is going to health care here in the United States. Now that’s point number one.
So clearly we’ve got a system that isn’t as efficient as it should be because we’re not healthier than these people in these other countries.
Having said that, most other countries have some form of single-payer system. There are differences — Canada and England have more of what’s called — what people I guess would call a socialized system, in the sense that government owns the hospitals, directly hires doctors — but there are a whole bunch of countries like the Netherlands where what they do is, it’s a single-payer system only in the sense that government pays the bill, but it’s all private folks out there — private doctors, private facilities. So there are a bunch of different ways of doing it.
Now, what we need to do is come up with a uniquely American way of providing care. (Applause.) So I’m not in favor of a Canadian system, I’m not in favor of a British system, I’m not in a favor of a French system. That’s not what Max is working on. Every one of us, what we’ve said is, let’s find a uniquely American solution because historically here in the United States the majority of people get their health insurance on the job. So let’s build on that system that already exists — because for us to completely change that, it would be too disruptive. That’s where suddenly people would lose what they have and they’d have to adjust to an entirely new system. And Max and I agree that’s not the right way to go.
So all we’ve said is, in building a better system, what are the elements? Well, number one, for people like you, you should be able to get some help going into the private insurance marketplace and buying health insurance. So we would give you a tax credit, a subsidy of some sort, to help you obtain insurance.
Now, the problem is, if you’re going out there on your own, then it’s much more expensive than if you go in a big group. So we would allow you to buy into a health care exchange that would give you some power to negotiate for a better rate, because you’re now part of a big pool. We would also make sure that if you do have health insurance that you are protected from some of the policies that we’ve already talked about that have not been very good for consumers. So you wouldn’t be able to be banned for preexisting conditions. There would be caps on the amount of out-of-pocket expenses you would have to spend. So we would reform the insurance market for people who already have health insurance.
And if we do those things — making it better for folks who already have insurance, making it easier for you to buy insurance, and helping small businesses who want to do the right thing by their employees but just can’t afford it because they’re charged very high rates, they can’t get a good deal from the insurance companies — if we do those things, then we can preserve the best of what our system offers — the innovation, the dynamism — but also make sure that people aren’t as vulnerable. Now, that’s essentially what we’re talking about with health care reform.
And so when you start hearing people saying, you know, we’re trying to get socialized medicine and we’re trying to have government bureaucrats meddle in your decision-making between you and your doctor, that’s just not true.
All right? Okay. It’s a guy’s turn. Gentleman right there in the back, with the green.
Q I think most of us know that Medicare is one of the best social programs this nation has ever put together. (Applause.) It works extremely well and helps the people who need it the most. But money doesn’t grow on trees. How can we be assured that increasing coverage to others is not going to make Medicare more expensive or less effective?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think this is a good point, and I appreciate the question, because a lot of seniors are concerned about this. First of all, it is important to know that Medicare is a government program. So when you hear people saying, “I hate government programs, but keep your hands off my Medicare” — (laughter) — then there’s a little bit of a contradiction there. And I have been hearing that quite a bit, all right, so I just want to — (applause) — I want to be clear about that.
Medicare is a terrific program and it gives our seniors security. And I want Medicare to be there for the next generation, not just for this generation. But if we don’t make some changes in how the delivery system works, if we don’t eliminate some of the waste and inefficiencies in the system, then seniors are really going to be vulnerable. So what we’ve proposed is not to reduce benefits — benefits on Medicare would stay the same — it’s not to ration. What we are asking is that we eliminate some of the practices that aren’t making people healthier.
Example number one: Subsidies to insurance companies under Medicare amount to about $177 billion over 10 years. That’s how much we think we could save by eliminating subsidies to insurance companies that are offering what’s called Medicare Advantage. It doesn’t help seniors any more than regular Medicare does. (Applause.)
And so if we took that $177 billion, we’re not making seniors worse off, but we’ve got that money now not only to strengthen the health care system overall, but potentially to cover more people. Now, the insurance companies don’t like it, but it’s the right thing to do.
Let me give you another example of changes that we should make. Right now when you go into the hospital, you get a procedure under Medicare, if you end up having to come back to that hospital a week later because something went wrong, they didn’t do it right, the hospital doesn’t pay any penalty for that; they just get reimbursed for a second time or a third time — same fee, same service.
Now, think about that if car — auto repair shops operated the same way. You take your car in and you get it fixed, and a week later the thing is broken again. You go in. The guy says, well, let me charge you all over again, and I’ll do just the same thing. That doesn’t make sense. So what we’ve said is, let’s give hospitals an incentive. Let’s say to the hospitals, we’re going to charge you for overall treatment of whatever the problem is. And if you get it right the first time, you get to keep a little extra money. But if you keep on having the person coming back again and again, then there’s a disincentive.
Those are the examples of the kinds of changes that can be made that aren’t reductions in benefits, but they save the system money overall, and by the way, will actually increase the life expectancy of the Medicare Trust Fund, which is in deep trouble if we don’t do something, because as you said, money doesn’t grow on trees. So we’re actually trying to help preserve Medicare and make people healthier in the process.
All right. (Applause.) Young lady in the back there, right there. No, well, actually, I was pointing — I didn’t see you. Right there. No, the young lady in the blue who stood up there.
Q Good afternoon, Mr. President. I’m a Bozeman resident. Sorry, I’m a little nervous.
THE PRESIDENT: You’re doing great. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you. I’m a single mother of two children. I’m an MSU student. I have a son that suffers from many disabilities. He’s disabled for the rest of his life. He’s 11 years old. He suffers from autism. He’s non-verbal. He suffers from extremely hard to control epilepsy, and he’s Type I diabetic. He has been sick with these ailments ever since he was nine months old. My question to you is, I rely heavily on his Medicaid to support good health care for him. What, with this reform, would happen with his Medicaid — Medicare coverage — or Medicaid coverage, sorry.
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, thank you for sharing your story. You are a heroic mom, so we are grateful to you and your son is lucky. (Applause.
If you currently qualify for Medicaid — your son currently qualifies for Medicaid, he would continue to qualify for Medicaid. So it would not have an impact on his benefit levels and his ability to get the care that he needs.
Some of the reforms that we’re talking about, though — what I just referred to as delivery system reforms, where we help, for example, encourage doctors when they are seeing a patient, instead of having five tests, do one test and then e-mail all the tests to five specialists. Those kinds of changes can save money in the Medicaid and the Medicare systems overall, and that will actually help Governor Schweitzer, who has to come up with half of Medicaid in his state budget every year, it will actually help him then be able to pay for it.
So we’re not changing the benefit levels or who qualifies for Medicaid — we might see some expansion of Medicaid, in fact, under the reforms that have been proposed in some of the legislation — but we do have to make the whole system overall just a little bit smarter, make sure we’re getting a better bang for the buck, so that the money is there for the services that your son needs. Okay.
This also includes, by the way, preventive care, wellness care, because our system really is not a health care system, it’s more like a disease care system, right? We wait until people get sick and then we provide them care. Now, think about it — are we better off waiting until somebody gets diabetes and then paying a surgeon for a foot amputation, or are we better off having somebody explain to a person who’s obese and at risk of diabetes to change their diet, and if they contract diabetes to stay on their medications? Obviously the second is more cost-efficient, but right now the health care system is perverse. It does not incentivize those things that actually make people better or keeps them out of hospitals in the first place, and that’s what we have to change overall to make sure that the resources are there for your son. Okay? (Applause.)
It’s a gentleman’s turn, and I’m going to call on that gentleman right there — right there.
Q My name is Randy –
THE PRESIDENT: Hold on, Randy. There you go.
Q Okay. My name is Randy, I’m from Ekalaka, Montana. And as you can see, I’m a proud NRA member. (Applause.) I believe in our Constitution, and it’s a very important thing. I also get my news from the cable networks because I don’t like the spin that comes from them other places.
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, you got to be — you got to be careful about them cable networks, though. (Laughter.) But that’s okay, go ahead, go on with your question.
Q Max Baucus, our senator, has been locked up in a dark room there for months now trying to come up with some money to pay for these programs. And we keep getting the bull. That’s all we get, is bull. You can’t tell us how you’re going to pay for this. You’re saving here, you’re saving over there, you’re going to take a little money here, you’re going to take a little money there. But you have no money. The only way you’re going to get that money is to raise our taxes. You said you wouldn’t. (Applause.) Max Baucus says he doesn’t want to put a bill out that will. But that’s the only way you can do that.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let — I’m happy to answer the question.
Q Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Look, you are absolutely right that I can’t cover another 46 million people for free. You’re right. I can’t do that. So we’re going to have to find some resources. If people who don’t have health insurance are going to get some help, then we’re going to have to find money from somewhere.
Now, what I’ve identified, and most of the committees have identified and agreed to, including Max Baucus’s committee, is that there — overall this bill will cost — let’s say it costs $800 billion to $900 billion. That’s a lot of money. That’s a lot of money. That’s over 10 years, though, all right? So that’s about $90 billion — $80 billion to $90 billion a year.
About two-thirds of it — two-thirds — can be obtained by doing some of the things I already mentioned, like eliminating subsidies to insurance companies. So you’re right, that’s real money. I just think I would rather be giving that money to the young lady here who doesn’t have health insurance and giving her some help, than giving it to insurance companies that are making record profits. (Applause.) Now, you may disagree. I just think that’s a good way to spend our money.
But your point is well taken, because even after we spend — even after we eliminate some of the waste and we’ve gotten those savings from within the health care system, that’s only two-thirds. That still means we’ve got to come up with one-third. And that’s about $30 billion a year that we’ve got to come up with. Now, keep in mind the numbers change, partly because there are five different bills right now. This is all going to get merged in September. But let’s assume it costs about $30 billion a year over 10 years. We do have to come up with that money.
When I was campaigning, I made a promise that I would not raise your taxes if you made $250,000 a year or less. That’s what I said. But I said that for people like myself, who make more than that, there’s nothing wrong with me paying a little bit more in order to help people who’ve got a little bit less. That was my commitment. (Applause.)
So what I’ve said is — so what I’ve said is let’s, for example, just — this is the solution that I originally proposed; some members in Congress disagree, but we’re still working it through — what I’ve said is we could lower the itemized deductions that I can take on my income tax returns every year so that instead of me getting 36 percent, 35 percent deductions, I’ll just get 28 percent, like people who make less money than me.
If I’m writing a check to my local church, I don’t know why Uncle Sam should be giving me a bigger tax break than the person who makes less money than me, because that donation means just as much. (Applause.) If we just did that alone — just that change alone, for people making more than $250,000, that alone would pay for the health care we’re talking about. (Applause.)
So my point is — my point is, number one, two-thirds of the money we can obtain just from eliminating waste and inefficiencies. And the Congressional Budget Office has agreed with that; this is not something I’m just making up; Republicans don’t dispute it. And then the other third we would have to find additional revenue, but it wouldn’t come on the backs of the middle class.
Now, let me just make one final point. I know that there are some people who say, I don’t care how much money somebody makes; they shouldn’t have to pay higher taxes. And I respect that opinion. I respect that view. But the truth of the matter is, is that we’ve got to get over this notion that somehow we can have something for nothing, because that’s part of how we got into the deficits and the debt that we’re in, in the first place. (Applause.)
When the previous administration passed the prescription drug bill, that was something that a lot of seniors needed, right? They needed prescription drug help. The price tag on that was hundreds of billions of dollars. You know how we paid for it? We didn’t. It just got added on to the deficit and the debt.
So it amuses me sometimes when I hear some of the opponents of health care reform on the other side of the aisle or on these cable shows yelling about how we can’t afford this, when Max and I are actually proposing to pay for it, and they passed something that they didn’t pay for at all and left for future generations to have to pay in terms of debt. That doesn’t make sense to me. (Applause.)
All right, can I say this, though? Randy, I appreciate your question, the respectful way you asked it, and by the way, I believe in the Constitution, too. So thank you very much. Appreciate it. (Applause.)
All right, right there in the green in the back there. Yes, that’s you.
Q Okay, so when funding dried up last fall due to the economic downturn, I lost my job at a non-profit helping struggling teens. And I’d like to thank you because — because of your stimulus funding to community health clinics, I now have a new job helping people who are — (applause) –
THE PRESIDENT: That’s great.
Q — mostly uninsured people with mental health. I’m a therapist.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s great.
Q So I wanted to thank you for that. But there was a gap in there where I lost my insurance in between losing my job at the non-profit and my current job. And I’d like to ask you how you will help people with that gap when they’re unemployed.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, the recovery package, the stimulus helped people precisely with that gap when we said we’ll cover 65 percent of the cost of COBRA. How many people here have been on COBRA or tried to get on COBRA? All right, so just for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, if you lose your job, under federal law you’re able to access something called COBRA which allows you to pay the premiums for the health care insurance that you had until you find your next job. Sounds like a good deal.
Here’s the only problem, as I said before, most of us don’t realize how much our insurance costs our employers because we’re not seeing the actual bill that’s being paid mostly by our employers. So when we lose a job, suddenly we get this bill for a thousand dollars or $1,200 or $1,500 a month, and that’s absolutely the worst time for you to have to come up with that money, is when you’ve lost your job.
So what we did was, let’s — we said because this is such a extraordinary crisis, let’s pick up 65 percent of that temporarily so that the huge numbers of people who’ve lost their jobs because of this financial downturn, they get a little bit more of a cushion.
Now, that was the initial help that we wanted to do to provide that bridge. When we pass health reform, you are going to be in a position where, first of all, you will be able to have selected a plan that you can carry with you whether you’ve lost your job or not, and depending on your income levels, you will also be qualified for a tax credit that will help you pay and continue your coverage even if you’ve lost your job.
And for a lot of people — this is especially important for a lot of people who are self-employed because increasingly, you know, if you’re a consultant, you’re somebody who’s opened up your own shop, a little mom and pop store somewhere, you are the people who have the toughest time getting insurance because you just don’t have enough employees for the insurance companies to take you seriously.
That’s why what we want to do is create an exchange — it’s like a marketplace — where you can go and choose from a menu of different options, different kinds of plans that you think might be right for you. And one of the options that’s being debated is, should there be a public option, all right? (Applause.) And I want to — I want to just explain this briefly, because this is where the whole myth of a government takeover of health care comes from. And not everybody — not even every Democrat — agrees on the public option, but I just want at least people to be informed about what the debate is about.
The idea is, if you go to that marketplace and you’re choosing from a bunch of different options, should one of the options be a government-run plan that still charges you premiums? You still have to pay for it just like private insurance, but government would not — this government option would not have the same profit motive. It would be obviously like a non-for-profit. It would have potentially lower overhead, so it might be able to give you a better deal, should you be able to choose from that option among many others. That’s what the debate is about. (Applause.)
Now, what the opponents of a public option will argue is, you can’t have a level playing field; if government gets into the business of providing health insurance, they will drive private insurers out of the health insurance market. That’s the argument that’s made. (Applause.) And I — that is a legitimate, it’s a fair concern, especially if the public option was being subsidized by taxpayers, right? I mean, if they didn’t — if they could just keep on losing money and still stay in business, after a while they would run everybody else out. And that’s why any discussion of a public option has said that it’s got to pay for itself, it’s not subsidized by private insurers.
The only point I want to make about this is whether you’re for or against a public option, just understand that the public option is not a government takeover of health insurance. Everybody here who still has — who has currently private insurance, you would more than likely still be on your private insurance plan. Employers wouldn’t stop suddenly providing health insurance. So that is where this idea of government-run health care came from. It is not an accurate portrayal of the debate that’s going on in Washington right now. All right?
It’s a gentleman’s turn. This gentleman right there, sitting — right there, yes. Yes, sir.
Q Thank you. Given your comments regarding the public option, I would like, if you could, to comment on the following — and also welcome, and thank you. And I believe in reform as well. I’ve learned that Medicare pays about 94 percent of hospital cost. And I’ve learned that Medicaid pays about 84 percent of hospital cost. And I’ve learned this from a reputable source, my brother who is a chief administrative officer at a large hospital group. He also explains to me, when I communicate with him, that private insurers — his hospital collects about 135 percent of cost from private insurers, and that makes up the difference. So if public option is out there, will it pay for its way, or will be under-funded like Medicare and Medicaid? Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: It’s a great question, and I’ll try to be succinct on this. This is a complicated area. Anybody who has ever gotten a bill from a hospital knows it’s a complicated area. But here’s the short answer. I believe that Medicare should — Medicare and Medicaid should not be obtaining savings just by squeezing providers.
Now, in some cases, we should change the delivery system, so that providers have a better incentive to provide smarter care. Right? So that they’re treating the illness instead of just how many tests are done, or how many MRIs are done, or what have you — let’s pay for are you curing the patient. But that’s different from simply saying, you know what, we need to save some money, so let’s cut payments to doctors by 10 percent and see how that works out. Because that’s where you do end up having the effect that you’re talking about. If they’re only collecting 80 cents on the dollar, they’ve got to make that up somewhere, and they end up getting it from people who have private insurance.
This is true, also, by the way, of emergency room care. Each of us spend — even though we don’t know it; our employer pays for it so we don’t notice it on our tab — each of us spend about a thousand dollars per family, maybe $900 per family, paying for uncompensated care — people without health insurance going in, getting fixed up. That money comes from somewhere — well, it comes from you. You just don’t see it on your bill.
And so if we can help provide coverage to people so that they’re getting regular primary care and they’re not going to the emergency room, we will obtain some savings and that’s partly — going to Randy’s earlier question — that’s partly how we’ll end up paying for giving people health insurance — because we’re already paying for it right now, we just don’t notice it. (Applause.) We are paying for it in uncompensated care that is subsidized by the rest of us who have health insurance.
All right. I think this is the signal that I only have a few more questions. I’m going to take two more questions. If I’m in Montana, I got to call on somebody with a cowboy hat. (Laughter.) Absolutely. You’ve got a little plaque on there — is it the –
Q Montana Ambassadors. We’re a business advisory group appointed by the governor. We’ve served three Republican and two Democratic governors, and I’d like to welcome you on behalf of the Montana Ambassadors to Montana.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Well, you make a great ambassador. (Applause.)
Q Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.
Q My question — and I’m glad you called on me — it has to do with the COBRA question — because I’m in the building materials business; I own a lumberyard in a beautiful little town of a thousand people about 40 miles southwest of here, Ennis. And I was — when the economy took a nosedive, I was forced to take my workforce from 11 people to six. And I want to — like most employers in America, I want to, you know, provide — I think it’s my responsibility to provide health insurance; you know, we like to take care of our peeps, so to speak. (Laughter.) And so I went on –
THE PRESIDENT: Is that a Montana phrase, “peeps”? (Laughter.)
Q And so I went searching for replacement coverage for the employees that have been laid off, only to find out that COBRA doesn’t apply to me because I have less than 20 employees. And that conservatively affects 80 percent of all workers in Montana.
So they were pretty much out on their own, and I was wondering if — what we can do to eliminate discrimination against small employers. As an example, we’re a lumberyard. We’re out there lifting boards and packing stuff all day long. Every one of my remaining seven employees are fit. So why are we, and I as an employer, able to provide a lesser level of benefits to my employees, and yet an employer with 30 employees who sit in cubicles on their butts instead of working them off — (laughter) — gets a better rate? (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that’s a pretty good question. So for all of you who are all sitting on your — what did you call them? (Laughter.) No, as I said, small business is probably as vulnerable as anybody. And one of the things that Max has been working very hard on — and this just doesn’t get advertised, so I just want to make sure everybody is paying attention here — one of the things that we’re trying to do is give a substantial subsidy to help small businesses allow their employees to get health insurance, because there are a lot of employers just like you who want to do the right thing, but they’re a small shop, they’re operating on small margins, they’ve got no leverage with the insurance companies.
So there are two ways we want to help. Number one, we want the small business to be able to buy into the exchange. That allows you then to use the purchasing power of everybody who is in the exchange to get the best rates from the insurance companies. That right away would drive down the premiums that you’d have to pay.
And the second thing we want to do is for employers who are doing the right thing and providing health insurance that is real, then we want to give you a tax break so that it’s easier for you to make your bottom line.
Now, this is something that a lot of small businesses would benefit from. Nobody is talking about it. And since small businesses are the place where you’re seeing the fastest job growth, it makes sense for us to provide this kind of protection. This, I guarantee you, will end up being an important component of whatever we pass out of Washington. All right? (Applause.)
I’ve only got time for one more question, and it’s a guy’s turn, and I want somebody who’s got a concern or is skeptical about health care reform. Here we go, there we go. I knew we could find a couple here. So I’ll call on this gentleman right here in the pale blue shirt — and hopefully that list is not too long. All right, go ahead. Introduce yourself, though.
Q My name is Mark Montgomery. I’m from Helena, Montana.
THE PRESIDENT: Great to see you, Mark.
Q I appreciate you coming here. It’s great to be able to do this.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
Q Mr. President, I make a living selling individual health insurance. (Laughter.) Obviously I’ve paid very close attention to this insurance debate. As you know, the health insurance companies are in favor of health care reform and have a number of very good proposals before Congress to work with government to provide insurance for the uninsured and cover individuals with preexisting conditions. Why is it that you’ve changed your strategy from talking about health care reform to health insurance reform and decided to vilify the insurance companies? (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Okay, that’s a fair question, that’s a fair question. First of all, you are absolutely right that the insurance companies, in some cases, have been constructive. So I’ll give you a particular example. Aetna has been trying to work with us in dealing with some of this preexisting conditions stuff. And that’s absolutely true. And there are other companies who have done the same.
Now, I want to just be honest with you, and I think Max will testify, that in some cases what we’ve seen is also funding in opposition by some other insurance companies to any kind of reform proposals. So my intent is not to vilify insurance companies. If I was vilifying them, what we would be doing would be to say that private insurance has no place in the health care market, and some people believe that. I don’t believe that. (Applause.) What I’ve said is let’s work with the existing system. We’ve got private insurers out there. But what we do have to make sure of is that certain practices that are very tough on people, that those practices change.
Now, one point I want to make about insurance: Some of the reforms that we want for the insurance market are very hard to achieve, unless we’ve got everybody covered. This is the reason the insurance companies are willing to support reform, because their attitude is if we can’t exclude people for preexisting conditions, for example, if we can’t cherry pick the healthy folks from the not-so-healthy folks, well, that means that we’re taking on more people with more expensive care. What’s in it for us? The answer is if they’ve got more customers, then they’re willing to make sure that they are eliminating some of these practices. If they’ve got fewer customers, they’re less willing to do it.
So it’s important for people — when people ask me sometimes, why don’t you just do the insurance reform stuff and not expand coverage for more people, my answer is I can’t do the insurance reform stuff by itself. The only way that we can change some of the insurance practices that are hurting people now is to make sure that everybody is covered and everybody has got a stake in it, and then the insurance companies are able and willing to make some of these changes that will help people who have insurance right now. But thank you for the question. I appreciate it. (Applause.)
All right. I’m going to — even though I shouldn’t do this, I’m going to take one more question. My team always — and I’m going to call on this person right here to get the last word.
Q Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you for coming to Bozeman and bringing your beautiful family to the last best place in the world. (Applause.)
Because you’re a constitutional scholar, I think it would be terrible to let you escape from Montana without sharing with you the most perfect preamble to a constitution of any state constitution.
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, okay. Well, I’d like to — I want to hear this. This is a good way to end our town hall.
Q It is. “We the people of Montana, grateful to God for the quiet beauty of our state, the grandeur of our mountains, the vastness of our rolling plains, and desiring to improve the quality of life, the quality of opportunity and to secure the blessings of liberty for this and future generations do ordain and establish this constitution.” I hope you take a look at the whole constitution. You’ll like it. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that’s very nice. Well, thank you. Listen, Montana, you’ve been terrific. I hope this has been informative. Thank you for the questions. Let’s get to work. Thank you. (Applause.)
President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Cynthia L. Quarterman to become the Administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration at the Department of Transportation.
President Obama also announced that he will designate Mary Lucille Jordan, currently serving as a Commissioner on the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, as Chair of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.
President Obama said, “I am grateful these talented and dedicated individuals have chosen to serve in my administration. I look forward to working with them to strengthen safety and preparedness in the months and years to come.”
President Obama announced his intent to nominate the following individual today:
Cynthia L. Quarterman, Administrator, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Department of Transportation
Cynthia L. Quarterman is a partner in the Washington, DC office of the law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP, where she has a regulatory and litigation practice in the areas of transportation and natural resources. She has more than 20 years of experience in the transportation of hazardous materials by pipeline. Quarterman served as a past Director of the Minerals Management Service at the Department of the Interior, which oversees the leasing, exploration and resource development on the Nation’s outer continental shelf, including the transportation of hazardous materials by pipeline. Quarterman earned a Juris Doctorate degree from Columbia University’s School of Law and a Bachelors of Science in Industrial Engineering degree from Northwestern University.
President Obama also made the following announcement today:
Mary Lucille Jordan, Chair, Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission
Mary Lucille Jordan previously served as Chair of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission from 1994 until 2001. She then served as a Commissioner until 2002, and again from 2003 until the present. Previously, Ms. Jordan was senior staff attorney for the United Mine Workers of America from 1977 to 1994. In that capacity, she was responsible for directing litigation under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act, and advised the United Mine Workers of America of relevant changes in legislation and case law. Ms. Jordan earned her B.A. from St. Bonaventure University in New York in 1971 and a J.D. from Antioch School of Law in Washington, D.C. in 1976.
Remarks of President Barack Obama—As Prepared For Delivery
Health Care Town Hall
August 14, 2009
Hello, Montana! It’s great to be here again. It’s always nice to take a break from the back and forth in Washington. And I’m thrilled to have the chance to spend some time with the folks in this beautiful state. After all, here in Montana, you’ve got bears and moose and elk. Back in Washington, we mostly see a lot of bull. So this is a nice change of pace.
I especially want to thank Katie for her introduction. I appreciate your willingness to talk about such a painful experience, because it’s important that we understand what’s at stake in this health care debate. These are the kinds of stories I’ve read in letters and heard in town halls all across America. The stories of hardworking people who are doing the right thing and acting responsibly, only to find out that they’re penalized because others aren’t doing the right thing – others aren’t acting responsibly.
On Tuesday, I was in New Hampshire talking about the people denied insurance coverage because of preexisting conditions. Today, we’re talking about folks like Katie who’ve had their insurance policies suddenly revoked, even though they were paying premiums, because of a medical condition. And tomorrow, in Colorado, we’ll be talking about the people who have insurance but are still stuck with huge bills because they’ve hit a cap on their benefits or they’re charged exorbitant out-of-pocket fees.
And when you hear about these experiences, when you think of the millions of people denied coverage because of preexisting conditions, when you think about the thousands who have their policies cancelled each year, like Katie, I want you to remember one thing: there but for the grace of God go I. These are ordinary Americans, no different than anyone else, held hostage by health insurance companies that deny them coverage, or drop their coverage, or charge fees that they can’t afford for care that they desperately need.
It’s wrong. It’s bankrupting families and businesses. And we’re going to fix it when we pass health insurance reform this year. And I want to thank Senator Max Baucus for his hard work on a bill as chair of the Finance Committee – and for his commitment to getting this done.
Now, this is obviously a tough time for families in Montana and across America. Just six months ago, we were in the middle of the worst recession of our lifetimes. We were losing about 700,000 jobs each month. Economists of all stripes feared a second coming of the Great Depression. That’s why we acted as fast as we could to pass a recovery plan to stop the freefall.
The recovery plan was divided into three parts. One third of the money in the Recovery Act went to tax cuts that have already started showing up in the paychecks of about 400,000 working families in Montana. We also cut taxes for small businesses on the investments that they make, and more than 200 Montana small businesses have qualified for new loans backed by the Recovery Act, including ten businesses in the Bozeman area alone.
Another third of the money in the Recovery Act is for emergency relief for folks who’ve borne the brunt of this recession. We’ve extended unemployment benefits for 40,000 Montana residents. We’ve made health insurance 65 percent cheaper for families who rely on COBRA while they’re looking for work. And for states facing historic budget shortfalls, we provided assistance that has saved the jobs of tens of thousands of workers who provide essential services, like teachers and police officers. We’ve prevented painful jobs cuts – and a lot of painful state and local tax increases.
The last third of the Recovery Act is for investments that are already putting people back to work. These are jobs rebuilding infrastructure; there are nearly seventy transportation projects already approved here in Montana. These are jobs fixing up the roads that run through national forests. These are good jobs doing the work America needs done. And most of the work is being done by local businesses, because that’s how we’re going to grow this economy again.
So there is no doubt that the recovery plan is doing what we said it would: putting us on the road to recovery. We saw last Friday the jobs picture is beginning to turn. We’re starting to see signs that business investment is coming back. But that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods. You know that. In Bozeman, for example, the local job center recently reported seeing more than 8,000 job seekers for just 160 jobs. We cannot sit back and do nothing while families are still struggling.
Even before this recession we had an economy that was working pretty well for the wealthiest Americans – working pretty well for Wall Street bankers and big corporations – but it wasn’t working so well for everybody else. It was an economy of bubbles and busts. It was an economy in which recklessness, and not responsibility, was rewarded. We cannot go back to that kind of economy.
If we want this country to succeed in the 21st century then we have to lay a new foundation for lasting prosperity. And health insurance reform is one of the key pillars of this new foundation. Because this economy won’t work for everyone until folks like Katie and her husband can start that small business without fear of losing their health coverage; until companies aren’t slashing payroll and losing profits to pay for health insurance; until every single American has the security – the peace of mind – of knowing that they’ve got quality, affordable health care.
The fact is, health care touches all of our lives in a profound way. So it is only natural that this debate is an emotional one. And I know there’s been a lot of attention paid to some of the town hall meetings that are going on around the country – especially those where tempers have flared. You know how TV loves a ruckus.
But what you haven’t seen – and what makes me proud – are the many constructive meetings going on all over the country. Earlier this week, I held a town hall in New Hampshire. A few thousand people showed up. Some were big supporters of health insurance reform. Some had concerns and questions. And some were downright skeptical. But I was glad to see that people weren’t there to shout. They were there to listen. And I think that reflects the American people far more than what we’ve seen covered on television these past few days. And I thank you for coming here today in that spirit. But before I take your questions, I want to talk about what health insurance reform will mean for you.
First, health insurance reform will mean a set of common-sense consumer protections for folks with health insurance.
Insurance companies will no longer be able to cancel your coverage because you get sick. This is what happened to Katie. Think about this. You do the responsible thing. You pay your premiums each month so that you are covered in case of a crisis. And then that crisis comes. You have a heart attack. Or your husband finds out he has cancer. Or your son or daughter is rushed to the hospital. And at your most vulnerable – at your most frightened – you get a phone call from your insurance company. Your coverage is revoked. It turns out, once you got sick, they scoured your records looking for a reason to cancel your policy, and they found a minor mistake on an insurance form you submitted years ago.
One report found that three insurance companies alone had cancelled 20,000 policies in this way over the past few years. One man from Illinois lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because his insurer discovered he hadn’t reported gall stones he didn’t know about. Because his treatment was delayed, he died. A woman from Texas was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and was scheduled for a double mastectomy. Three days before the surgery, the insurer canceled the policy. Why? In part because she forgot to declare a case of acne. By the time she had her insurance reinstated, the cancer had more than doubled in size.
This is personal for me. I will never forget my own mother, as she fought cancer in her final months, having to worry about whether her insurance company would refuse to pay for her treatment. The insurance company was arguing that she should have known that she had cancer when she took a new job – even though it hadn’t been diagnosed yet. If it could happen to her, it could happen to any one of us. It’s wrong. And when we pass health insurance reform, we’re going to put a stop to it once and for all.
Insurance companies will also be prohibited from denying coverage because of your medical history. A recent report found that in the past three years, more than 12 million Americans were discriminated against by insurance companies because of a preexisting condition. No one holds these companies accountable for these practices. But we will.
And insurance companies will no longer be able to place an arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime. That will help 3,700 households in Montana. We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses, too, because no one in America should go broke because they get sick. And finally we will require insurance companies to cover routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies. That saves money and that saves lives.
This is what health insurance reform is all about. Right now we have a health care system that too often works better for the insurance industry than it does for the American people. And we’re going to change that.
Now, if you’re one of the nearly 46 million people who don’t have health insurance, you will finally have quality, affordable options. If you do have health insurance, we will help make that insurance more affordable and more secure. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health plan. If you like your doctor, you can keep seeing your doctor. This is important: I don’t want government bureaucrats meddling in your health care – but I also don’t want insurance company bureaucrats meddling in your health care either.
Under reform, more than 100,000 middle-class Montanans will get a health care tax credit. More than 200,000 Montanans will have access to a new marketplace where you can easily compare health insurance options. And nearly 30,000 small businesses in Montana will be helped by new tax benefits as well. And we do all of this without adding to our deficit over the next decade, largely but cutting waste and ending sweetheart deals for insurance companies that don’t make anybody any healthier.
The fact is, we are closer to achieving health insurance reform than we have ever been in history. We have the American Nurses Association and the American Medical Association on board – because America’s doctors and nurses know how badly we need reform. We have broad agreement in Congress on about 80 percent of what we’re trying to achieve. And we have an agreement from the drug companies to make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors. The AARP supports this policy, and agrees with us that reform must happen this year.
Because we are getting close, the fight is getting fierce. The history is clear: every time we are in sight of health insurance reform, the special interests fight back with everything they’ve got. They use their influence. They run their ads. They use their political allies to scare the American people.
Well, we cannot let them do it again. Not this time. Because for all the scare tactics out there, what is truly scary – what is truly risky – is if we do nothing. If we keep the system the way it is right now. We will continue to see 14,000 Americans lose their health insurance every day. Premiums will continue to skyrocket, rising three times faster than wages. The deficit will continue to grow. Medicare will go into the red in less than a decade. And insurance companies will continue to profit by discriminating against people simply for being sick.
So if you want a different future – a brighter future – I need your help. Change is never easy – and it never starts in Washington. It starts with you. I need you to knock on doors, talk to your neighbors, and spread the facts. The cynics will continue to exploit fear for political gain. But we know that this isn’t about politics. This is about families and businesses. And at this moment – at this time defined by so many challenges – this about whether we will look back years from now and say we did what was right. We did what was hard. We did what was necessary to leave for our children a country stronger than the one we found.
Thank you. And now, I’d be happy to take your questions.
Jermaine Jackson’s Alleged Tell-All Rant About His Brother Michael Resurfaces! Doesn’t At All Sound Like The Devoted Big Brother Of The Last Couple Of Months!
You know, Jermaine Jackson is all over the place as the spokesman for the Jackson family since his younger brother Michael Jackson, died tragically June 25, 2009. But there has been talk for a number of years of how disconnected Jermaine and Michael, or simply Michael and his brothers were. In fact, the tour that Michael was embarking on solo was supposed to be a group effort. The Jackson brothers were proposing a world tour with all six members and Janet as the opening act.
The next thing fans knew Michael Jackson announced his “This Is It” tour. That had to be crushing for the brothers. Anyhow, Jermaine produced a manuscript that detailed his true feelings about his brother among other things. There are several media outlets who have copies of the manuscript. Here is a very eye-opening excerpt from it:
“My brother is a superstar, yes. My brother is wealthy. He owns shares in Sony music. He drinks, he does drugs, he lies, he cheats, he changed his skin color and mostly, he’s human. He attracts gay men and wards off women like the plague.”
Amazing allegations, aren’t they? Well, if this manuscript is the real McCoy, and many say that it is, perhaps Jermaine will have the final say with an explosive tell-all that could rival the book LaToya put out some years back.
This is what the health care reform debate has turned into.
Rep. David Scott, D-GA office sign was defaced by a spray-painted black swastika. The congressman also told the localnews that his office have received numerous emails containing death threats and harassing telephone calls. All of this drama is part of the scare tactics that thugs working for the health insurance and pharmaceutical companies are using to fuel the lies and secret plot theories that are being fed to the American public about health care reform.
It is sickening and shocking.
Fear is the most powerful tool that humans use against one another to forward an agenda that benefits one group of people. Like those “weapons of mass destruction” that Saddam Hussein was allegedly thought to be harboring in a planned attack on the U.S. We all know how that story turned out, don’t we?
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AND SUPREME COURT JUSTICE SONIA SOTOMAYOR
AT RECEPTION IN HER HONOR
10:17 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody, and welcome to the White House. I am glad all of you could be with us today as we honor the newest member of our highest Court who I’m proud to address, for the very first time, as Justice Sonia Sotomayor. (Applause.)
We are also honored to be joined by Justice Sotomayor’s new colleagues. We have Justice Ginsburg who is here — (applause) — as well as Justice Stevens. So I just want to thank both Justice Stevens and Justice Ginsburg not only for being here today, but for your extraordinary service on the Court. And I know you’ll be giving Justice Sotomayor some good tips. (Laughter.)
I also want to thank everyone who’s worked so hard to bring us to this day. I want to thank especially our Judiciary Committee Chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy — (applause) — as well as our Senate Majority Leader, Senator Reid — (applause) — for their outstanding work to complete this process before the August recess.
I want to thank Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand, both of whom are Justice Sotomayor’s home-state senators, for their extraordinary work on her behalf. I want to thank all the members of Congress who’ve taken the time to join us here at the White House event. And I want to acknowledge all the advocates and groups who organized and mobilized and supported these efforts from the very beginning. Your work was absolutely critical to our success, and I appreciate all that you’ve done. So pat yourselves on the back. Congratulations. (Applause.)
Two members of Congress that I just especially want to acknowledge — Senator Bob Menendez, who worked so hard on the Senate side. (Applause.) And Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, who is our chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. (Applause.)
And I think we all want to take a moment to recognize the woman who, in so many ways, truly made this day possible — Justice Sotomayor’s mother, Celina Sotomayor. (Applause.) Mrs. Sotomayor is here with her husband, Omar; and Justice Sotomayor’s brother, Juan; and other members of their family. And we’re thrilled that they could join us here today.
And by the way — I don’t normally do this, but let me also just thank my extraordinary White House staff who helped to usher this stuff through. We’re very proud of them. (Applause.) Thank you very much.
Of course, we’re here not just to celebrate our extraordinary new Supreme Court justice and all those who’ve been a part of her journey to this day. We’re here, as well, to celebrate an extraordinary moment for our nation. We celebrate the impact Justice Sotomayor has already had on people across America who have been inspired by her exceptional life story. We celebrate the greatness of a country in which such a story is possible. And we celebrate how, with their overwhelming vote to confirm Justice Sotomayor, the United States Senate –- Republicans and Democrats — tore down yet one more barrier and affirmed our belief that in America, the doors of opportunity must be open to all.
With that vote, the Senate looked beyond the old divisions and they embraced excellence. They recognized Justice Sotomayor’s intellect, her integrity, and her independence of mind; her respect for the proper role of each branch of government; her fidelity to the law in each case that she hears; and her devotion to protecting our core constitutional rights and liberties.
Justice William Brennan once said that in order for government to ensure those rights for all its citizens, government officials must be attentive to the concrete human realities at stake in the decisions they make. They must understand, as Justice Brennan put it, “the pulse of life beneath the official version of events.” The pulse of life beneath the official version of events.
Justice Sotomayor understands those realities because she’s witnessed them firsthand as a prosecutor, a litigator, and a judge, working to uphold our laws, keep our communities safe, and give people the chance to live out their dreams — work that she has done with devotion, with distinction, and with an unyielding commitment to give back to this country that has given her so much.
And she understands these things because she’s lived these things — because her life is one of those “only in America” stories: raised by a single mom in the South Bronx determined to give her every opportunity to succeed; propelled by the talent and hard work that would earn her scholarships and honors at the best schools in the country; driven always by the belief that it doesn’t matter where you come from, or what you look like, or what challenges life throws your way — no dream is beyond reach in the United States of America.
And with her extraordinary breadth and depth of experience, Justice Sotomayor brings to the Court both a mastery of the letter of the law and an understanding of how the law actually unfolds in our daily lives — its impact on how we work and worship and raise our families; on whether we have the opportunities we need to live the lives we imagine.
That understanding is vital for the work of a Supreme Court justice, as Justice Stevens and Justice Ginsburg will testify — the work of applying principles set forth at our founding to the cases and controversies of our time.
For as visionary as our founders were, they did not presume to know exactly how the times would change, what new questions fate and history would set before us. Instead, they sought to articulate ideals that would be timeless — ideals that would accommodate the ever-changing circumstances of our lives and preserve for each new generation our most sacred rights and freedoms.
When Justice Sotomayor put her hand on that Bible and took that oath, we took yet another step towards realizing those ideals. We came yet another step closer to the more perfect union that we all seek.
Because while this is Justice Sotomayor’s achievement –- the result of her ability and determination -– this moment is not just about her. It’s about every child who will grow up thinking to him or herself, if Sonia Sotomayor can make it, then maybe I can, too. (Applause.) It’s about every mother or father who looks at the sacrifices Justice Sotomayor’s mother made, and the successes she and her brother have had, and thinks, I may not have much in my own life, but if I work hard enough, maybe my kids can have more. It’s about everyone in this nation facing challenges and struggles in their lives, who hear Justice Sotomayor’s story and thinks to themselves, if she could overcome so much and go so far, then why can’t I?
Nearly 80 years ago, as the cornerstone was laid for the building that became our Supreme Court, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes declared, “The Republic endures and this is the symbol of its faith.”
Justice Sotomayor’s rise from humble beginnings to the height of achievement is yet another symbol of that faith — faith that the American Dream still endures; faith that “equal justice under the law” is not just an inscription in marble, but an animating ideal of our democracy; faith that in this great nation, all things are still possible for all people.
This is a great day for America, and I know that all of us here are proud and honored to have been a part of it.
And so, with that, I would like to introduce the newest member of the United States Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor. (Applause.)
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: No words can adequately express what I am feeling. No speech can fully capture my joy in this moment. Nothing can convey the depth of gratitude I feel to the countless family members, starting with Mom and my brother, and the many friends and colleagues — so many of you who are here with me today, and the others who aren’t — who have helped me to reach this moment. None of this would have happened without all of you.
Mr. President, I have the most heartfelt appreciation for the trust that you’ve placed in me by nominating me. And I want to convey my thanks to the Judiciary Committee, led by Chairperson Leahy, for conducting a respectful and timely hearing, and to all members of the Senate for approving the President’s selection. I am so grateful to all of you for this extraordinary opportunity.
I am most grateful to this country. I stand here today knowing that my confirmation as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court would never have been possible without the opportunities presented to me by this nation. More than two centuries ago, in a Constitution that contains fewer than 5,000 words, our founders set forth their vision for this new land. Their self-proclaimed task was to form a more perfect union, to establish justice, and to secure the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity. Over the years, the ideals at the heart of that document have endured, as subsequent generations have expanded those blessings, these rights and freedoms to more and more Americans.
Our Constitution has survived domestic and international tumult, including a civil war, two world wars, and the catastrophe of September 11th. It draws together people of all races, faiths, and backgrounds from all across this country who carry its words and values in our heart. It is this nation’s faith in a more perfect union that allows a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx to stand here now. (Applause.)
I am struck again today by the wonder of my own life, and the life we in America are so privileged to lead. In reflecting on my life experiences, I am thinking also today of the judicial oath of office that I first took almost two decades ago, and that I reiterated this past weekend — to judge without respect to what a person looks like, where they come from, or whether they are rich or poor, and to treat all persons as equal under the law. That is what our system of justice requires, and it is the foundation of the American people’s faith in the rule of law, and it is why I am so passionate about the law.
I am deeply humbled by the sacred responsibility of upholding our laws and safeguarding the rights and freedoms set forth in our Constitution. I ask not just my family and friends, but I ask all Americans, to wish me divine guidance and wisdom in administering my new office.
I thank you all again for the love and support you have shown me. And I thank President Obama and the United States Senate for the tremendous honor and privilege they have granted me. Thank you. (Applause.)
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
IN HEALTH INSURANCE REFORM TOWN HALL
Portsmouth High School
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
1:05 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Portsmouth! Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Everybody have a seat. Oh, thank you so –
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you!
THE PRESIDENT: I love you back. Thank you. (Laughter.) It is great to be back in Portsmouth. (Applause.) It’s great to be back in New Hampshire. I have to say, though, that most of my memories of this state are cold. (Laughter.) So it’s good to be here in August.
There are a couple of people that I want to acknowledge who are here today, some special guests. First of all, I want to thank principal Jeffrey Collins, and the Portsmouth students and faculty and staff. (Applause.) Thank you — our host for today. Your own outstanding governor, John Lynch is here. (Applause.) And his wonderful wife, Dr. Susan Lynch is here, the First Lady of New Hampshire. (Applause.) Your United States senator, doing a great job, Jeanne Shaheen is here. (Applause.) The governor of the great state of Maine, and we are glad he’s here in New Hampshire today, John Baldacci is here. (Applause.)
Two of my favorite people, they are just taking Congress by storm, outstanding work — Paul Hodes, Carol Shea-Porter — give them a big round of applause. (Applause.) And we’ve got your own mayor, Tom Ferrini is here. Where’s Tom? There he is. (Applause.)
Now, I want to thank more than anybody, Lori, for that introduction, and for sharing her story with the rest of us. (Applause.) Thank you, Lori. Lori’s story is the same kind of story that I’ve read in letters, that I’ve heard in town hall meetings just like this one for the past five years. In fact, some of you were in that town hall — those town hall meetings, as I was traveling all throughout New Hampshire. It’s the story of hardworking Americans who are held hostage by health insurance companies that deny them coverage, or drop their coverage, or charge fees that they can’t afford for care that they desperately need.
I believe it is wrong. It is bankrupting families and businesses, and that’s why we are going to pass health insurance reform in 2009. (Applause.)
Now, this is obviously a tough time for families here in New Hampshire and all across America. Six months ago, we were in the middle of the worst recession of our lifetimes. I want you to remember what things were like in January and February. We were losing about 700,000 jobs per month. And economists of all stripes feared a second-coming of the Great Depression. That was only six months ago.
That’s why we acted as fast as we could to pass a Recovery Act that would stop the freefall. And I want to make sure everybody understands what we did. One-third of the money in the Recovery Act went to tax cuts that have already started showing up in the paychecks of about 500,000 working families in New Hampshire — (applause) — 500,000 families in New Hampshire. We also cut taxes for small businesses on the investments that they make, and over 300 New Hampshire small businesses have qualified for new loans backed by the Recovery Act.
Now, that was a third — that was a third of the Recovery Act. Another third of the money in the Recovery Act is for emergency relief for folks who’ve borne the brunt of this recession. So we’ve extended unemployment benefits for 20,000 New Hampshire residents. (Applause.) We’ve made health insurance 65 percent cheaper for families who rely on COBRA while they’re looking for work. (Applause.) And for states that were facing historic budget shortfalls, we provided assistance that has saved the jobs of tens of thousands of workers who provided essential services — like teachers and police officers. (Applause.) So it’s prevented a lot of painful cuts in the state, but also a lot of painful state and local tax increases.
Now, the last third of the Recovery Act is for investments that are already putting people back to work. These are jobs refurbishing bridges and pavement on I-95; or jobs at the community health centers here in Portsmouth that will be able to add nurses, and extend hours, and serve up to 500 new patients. These are good jobs doing the work America needs done. And, by the way, most of the work is being done by private, local businesses, because that’s how we’re going to grow this economy again.
So there is no doubt that the Recovery Act has helped put the brakes on this recession. We just saw last Friday the job picture is beginning to turn. We’re starting to see signs that business investment is coming back.
But, New Hampshire, that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods, and you know that. It doesn’t mean we can just sit back and do nothing while so many families are still struggling, because even before this recession hit we had an economy that was working pretty well for the wealthiest Americans, it was working pretty well for Wall Street bankers, it was working pretty well for big corporations, but it wasn’t working so well for everybody else. It was an economy of bubbles and busts. And we can’t go back to that kind of economy.
If we want this country to succeed in the 21st century — and if we want our children to succeed in the 21st century — then we’re going to have to take the steps necessary to lay a new foundation for economic growth. We need to build an economy that works for everybody, and not just some people. (Applause.)
Now, health insurance reform is one of those pillars that we need to build up that new foundation. I don’t have to explain to you that nearly 46 million Americans don’t have health insurance coverage today. In the wealthiest nation on Earth, 46 million of our fellow citizens have no coverage. They are just vulnerable. If something happens, they go bankrupt, or they don’t get the care they need.
But it’s just as important that we accomplish health insurance reform for the Americans who do have health insurance
– (applause) — because right now we have a health care system that too often works better for the insurance industry than it does for the American people. And we’ve got to change that. (Applause.)
Now, let me just start by setting the record straight on a few things I’ve been hearing out here — (laughter) — about reform. Under the reform we’re proposing, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.
You will not be waiting in any lines. This is not about putting the government in charge of your health insurance. I don’t believe anyone should be in charge of your health insurance decisions but you and your doctor. (Applause.) I don’t think government bureaucrats should be meddling, but I also don’t think insurance company bureaucrats should be meddling. That’s the health care system I believe in. (Applause.)
Now, we just heard from Lori about how she can’t find an insurance company that will cover her because of her medical condition. She’s not alone. A recent report actually shows that in the past three years, over 12 million Americans were discriminated against by insurance companies because of a preexisting condition. Either the insurance company refused to cover the person, or they dropped their coverage when they got sick and they needed it most, or they refused to cover a specific illness or condition, or they charged higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs. No one holds these companies accountable for these practices.
And I have to say, this is personal for Lori but it’s also personal for me. I talked about this when I was campaigning up here in New Hampshire. I will never forget my own mother, as she fought cancer in her final months, having to worry about whether her insurance would refuse to pay for her treatment. And by the way, this was because the insurance company was arguing that somehow she should have known that she had cancer when she took her new job — even though it hadn’t been diagnosed yet. So if it could happen to her, it could happen to any one of us.
And I’ve heard from so many Americans who have the same worries. One woman testified that an insurance company would not cover her internal organs because of an accident she had when she was five years old. Think about that — that covers a lot of stuff. (Laughter.) They’re only going to cover your skin. (Laughter.) Dermatology, that’s covered; nothing else. (Laughter.)
Another lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because the insurance company discovered he had gall stones that he hadn’t known about when he applied for insurance. Now, that is wrong, and that will change when we pass health care reform. That is going to be a priority. (Applause.)
Under the reform we’re proposing, insurance companies will be prohibited from denying coverage because of a person’s medical history. Period. (Applause.) They will not be able to drop your coverage if you get sick. (Applause.) They will not be able to water down your coverage when you need it. (Applause.) Your health insurance should be there for you when it counts — not just when you’re paying premiums, but when you actually get sick. And it will be when we pass this plan. (Applause.)
Now, when we pass health insurance reform, insurance companies will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime. And we will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses, because no one in America should go broke because they get sick. (Applause.)
And finally — this is important — we will require insurance companies to cover routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies — (applause) — because there’s no reason we shouldn’t be catching diseases like breast cancer and prostate cancer on the front end. That makes sense, it saves lives; it also saves money — and we need to save money in this health care system.
So this is what reform is about. For all the chatter and the yelling and the shouting and the noise, what you need to know is this: If you don’t have health insurance, you will finally have quality, affordable options once we pass reform. (Applause.) If you do have health insurance, we will make sure that no insurance company or government bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need. And we will do this without adding to our deficit over the next decade, largely by cutting out the waste and insurance company giveaways in Medicare that aren’t making any of our seniors healthier. (Applause.) Right. (Laughter.)
Now, before I start taking questions, let me just say there’s been a long and vigorous debate about this, and that’s how it should be. That’s what America is about, is we have a vigorous debate. That’s why we have a democracy. But I do hope that we will talk with each other and not over each other — (applause) — because one of the objectives of democracy and debate is, is that we start refining our own views because maybe other people have different perspectives, things we didn’t think of.
Where we do disagree, let’s disagree over things that are real, not these wild misrepresentations that bear no resemblance to anything that’s actually been proposed. (Applause.) Because the way politics works sometimes is that people who want to keep things the way they are will try to scare the heck out of folks and they’ll create boogeymen out there that just aren’t real. (Applause.)
So this is an important and complicated issue that deserves serious debate. And we have months to go before we’re done, and years after that to phase in all these reforms and get them right. And I know this: Despite all the hand-wringing pundits and the best efforts of those who are profiting from the status quo, we are closer to achieving health insurance reform than we have ever been. We have the American Nurses Association supporting us. (Applause.) We have the American Medical Association on board. (Applause.)
America’s doctors and nurses know firsthand how badly we need reform. We have broad agreement in Congress on about 80 percent of what we’re trying to do. We have an agreement from the drug companies to make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors. We can cut the doughnut hole in half if we pass reform. (Applause.) We have the AARP on board because they know this is a good deal for our seniors. (Applause.)
But let’s face it, now is the hard part — because the history is clear — every time we come close to passing health insurance reform, the special interests fight back with everything they’ve got. They use their influence. They use their political allies to scare and mislead the American people. They start running ads. This is what they always do.
We can’t let them do it again. Not this time. Not now. (Applause.) Because for all the scare tactics out there, what is truly scary — what is truly risky — is if we do nothing. If we let this moment pass — if we keep the system the way it is right now — we will continue to see 14,000 Americans lose their health insurance every day. Your premiums will continue to skyrocket. They have gone up three times faster than your wages and they will keep on going up.
Our deficit will continue to grow because Medicare and Medicaid are on an unsustainable path. Medicare is slated to go into the red in about eight to 10 years. I don’t know if people are aware of that. If I was a senior citizen, the thing I’d be worried about right now is Medicare starts running out of money because we haven’t done anything to make sure that we’re getting a good bang for our buck when it comes to health care. And insurance companies will continue to profit by discriminating against people for the simple crime of being sick. Now, that’s not a future I want for my children. It’s not a future that I want for the United States of America.
New Hampshire, I was up here campaigning a long time. (Laughter.) A lot of you guys came to my town hall events. Some of you voted for me, some of you didn’t. But here’s one thing I’ve got to say: I never said this was going to be easy. I never said change would be easy. If it were easy, it would have already been done. Change is hard. And it doesn’t start in Washington. It begins in places like Portsmouth, with people like Lori, who have the courage to share their stories and fight for something better. (Applause.)
That’s what we need to do right now. And I need your help. If you want a health care system that works for the American people — (applause) — as well as it works for the insurance companies, I need your help — knocking on doors, talking to your neighbors. Spread the facts. Let’s get this done. (Applause.)
Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: Yes we can! Yes we can! Yes we can!
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. I remember that.
Everybody have a seat. All right, this is the fun part. (Laughter.) Now, first of all, by the way, let’s thank the band — I didn’t see the band over here. Thank you, band. (Applause.) Great job.
All right, here’s how we’re going to do this. We do a lot of town hall meetings in New Hampshire, so everybody knows the basic outlines of this thing. If you have a question just raise your hand. There are people with microphones in the audience. I am going to try to go girl-boy-girl-boy, to make sure it’s fair. (Laughter.) If I hear only from people who agree with me I’m going to actively ask some folks who are concerned about health care, give them a chance to ask their questions, because I think we’ve got to make sure that we get out — surface some of the debates and concerns that people have. Some of them are legitimate. I’m going to try to get through as many questions as I can. But if you can keep your question or comment relatively brief, then I will try to keep my answers relatively brief, okay? (Laughter.)
All right, so we’re just going to go around the room and I’m going to start with this gentleman right here, this gentleman right here. Please introduce yourself, if you don’t mind.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Welcome to Portsmouth and New Hampshire. My name is Peter Schmidt. I’m a state representative from Dover. I’m a senior citizen. I have a wonderful government-run health care plan called Medicare. I like it. It’s affordable, it’s reasonable, nobody tells me what I need to do. I just go to my doctor at the hospital, I get care.
Now, one of the things you’ve been doing in your campaign to change the situation is you’ve been striving for bipartisanship. I think it’s a wonderful idea, but my question is, if the Republicans actively refuse to participate in a reasonable way with reasonable proposals, isn’t it time to just say we’re going to pass what the American people need and what they want, without the Republicans? (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me make a couple of points. First of all, you make a point about Medicare that’s very important. I’ve been getting a lot of letters, pro and con, for health care reform, and one of the letters I received recently, a woman was very exercised about what she had heard about my plan. She says, “I don’t want government-run health care. I don’t want you meddling in the private marketplace. And keep your hands off my Medicare.” (Laughter.) True story.
And so I do think it’s important for particularly seniors who currently receive Medicare to understand that if we’re able to get something right like Medicare, then there should be a little more confidence that maybe the government can have a role — not the dominant role, but a role — in making sure the people are treated fairly when it comes to insurance. (Applause.)
Under our proposal, the majority of Americans will still be getting their health care from private insurers. All we want to do is just make sure that private insurers are treating you fairly so that you are not buying something where if you failed to read the fine print, next thing you know, when you actually get sick, you have no coverage.
We also want to make sure that everybody has some options. So there’s been talk about this public option. This is where a lot of the idea of government takeover of health care comes from. All we want to do is set up a set of options so that if you don’t have health insurance or you’re underinsured you can have the same deal that members of Congress have, which is they can look at a menu of options — we’re calling it an exchange, but it’s basically just a menu of different health care plans — and you will be able to select the one that suits your family best.
And I do think that having a public option as part of that would keep the insurance companies honest, because if they’ve got a public plan out there that they’ve got to compete against, as long as it’s not being subsidized by taxpayers, then that will give you some sense of what — sort of a good bargain for what basic health care would be. (Applause.)
Now, I think that there are some of my Republican friends on Capitol Hill who are sincerely trying to figure out if they can find a health care bill that works — Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Olympia Snowe from Maine have been — (applause) — yes, I got to admit I like Olympia, too. (Laughter.) They are diligently working to see if they can come up with a plan that could get both Republican and Democratic support.
But I have to tell you, when I listen to folks like Lori and families all across America who are just getting pounded by the current health care system, and when I look at the federal budget and realize that if we don’t control costs on health care, there is no way for us to close the budget deficit — it will just keep on skyrocketing — when I look at those two things, I say we have to get it done. And my hope is we can do it in a bipartisan fashion, but the most important thing is getting it done for the American people. (Applause.)
All right. Let’s — this young lady right here. All right, this young lady right here. She’s still enjoying her summer. When do you go back to school?
Q I go back to school September 3rd.
THE PRESIDENT: September 3rd, okay. What’s your name?
Q Julia Hall from Malden, Massachusetts.
THE PRESIDENT: Nice to meet you, Julia. (Applause.)
Q I saw — as I was walking in, I saw a lot of signs outside saying mean things about reforming health care. How do kids know what is true, and why do people want a new system that can — that help more of us?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the — I’ve seen some of those signs. (Laughter.) Let me just be specific about some things that I’ve been hearing lately that we just need to dispose of here. The rumor that’s been circulating a lot lately is this idea that somehow the House of Representatives voted for “death panels” that will basically pull the plug on grandma because we’ve decided that we don’t — it’s too expensive to let her live anymore. (Laughter.) And there are various — there are some variations on this theme.
It turns out that I guess this arose out of a provision in one of the House bills that allowed Medicare to reimburse people for consultations about end-of-life care, setting up living wills, the availability of hospice, et cetera. So the intention of the members of Congress was to give people more information so that they could handle issues of end-of-life care when they’re ready, on their own terms. It wasn’t forcing anybody to do anything. This is I guess where the rumor came from.
The irony is that actually one of the chief sponsors of this bill originally was a Republican — then House member, now senator, named Johnny Isakson from Georgia — who very sensibly thought this is something that would expand people’s options. And somehow it’s gotten spun into this idea of “death panels.” I am not in favor of that. So just I want to — (applause.) I want to clear the air here.
Now, in fairness, the underlying argument I think has to be addressed, and that is people’s concern that if we are reforming the health care system to make it more efficient, which I think we have to do, the concern is that somehow that will mean rationing of care, right? — that somehow some government bureaucrat out there will be saying, well, you can’t have this test or you can’t have this procedure because some bean-counter decides that this is not a good way to use our health care dollars. And this is a legitimate concern, so I just want to address this.
We do think that systems like Medicare are very inefficient right now, but it has nothing to do at the moment with issues of benefits. The inefficiencies all come from things like paying $177 billion to insurance companies in subsidies for something called Medicare Advantage that is not competitively bid, so insurance companies basically get a $177 billion of taxpayer money to provide services that Medicare already provides. And it’s no better — it doesn’t result in better health care for seniors. It is a giveaway of $177 billion.
Now, think about what we could do with $177 billion over 10 years. I don’t think that’s a good use of money. I would rather spend that money on making sure that Lori can have coverage, making sure that people who don’t have health insurance get some subsidies, than I would want to be subsidizing insurance companies. (Applause.)
Another way of putting this is right now insurance companies are rationing care. They are basically telling you what’s covered and what’s not. They’re telling you: We’ll cover this drug, but we won’t cover that drug; you can have this procedure, or, you can’t have that procedure. So why is it that people would prefer having insurance companies make those decisions, rather than medical experts and doctors figuring out what are good deals for care and providing that information to you as a consumer and your doctor so you can make the decisions?
So I just want to be very clear about this. I recognize there is an underlying fear here that people somehow won’t get the care they need. You will have not only the care you need, but also the care that right now is being denied to you — only if we get health care reform. That’s what we’re fighting for. (Applause.)
All right. Gentleman back here, with the baseball cap. Right there.
Q Good afternoon, Mr. President. Bill Anderson from New Hampshire. In reference to what you just said — I’m presently under the New Hampshire Medicaid system and I have to take a drug called Lipitor. When I got onto this program they said, no, we’re not going to cover Lipitor — even though I’d been on that pill for probably 10 years, based on the information my doctor feels is right for me. And I had to go through two different trials of other kinds of drugs before it was finally deemed that I was able to go back on the Lipitor through the New Hampshire Medicaid system. So here it is, the Medicaid that you guys are administering and you’re telling me that it’s good — but in essence, I’m dealing with the same thing, and you’re telling me the insurance companies are doing. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that’s a legitimate point. I don’t know all the details, but it sounds to me like they were probably trying to have you take a generic as opposed to a brand name. Is that right? And it turned out that you did not have as good of a reaction under the generic as the brand name, and then they put you back on the brand name. Is that what happened?
Q Correct, to save money.
THE PRESIDENT: Well — right. Look, there may be — in nine out of 10 cases, the generic might work as well or better than the brand name. And we don’t want to just subsidize the drug companies if you’ve got one that works just as well as another.
The important thing about the story that you just told me was — is that once it was determined that, in fact, you needed the brand name, you were able to get the brand name. Now, I want to be absolutely clear here: There are going to be instances where if there is really strong scientific evidence that the generic and the brand name work just as well, and the brand name costs twice as much, that the taxpayer should try to get the best deal possible, as long as if it turns out that the generic doesn’t work as well, you’re able to get the brand name.
So the basic principle that we want to set up here is that — if you’re in private insurance, first of all, your private insurance can do whatever you want. If you’re under a government program, then it makes sense for us to make sure that we’re getting the best deal possible and not just giving drug makers or insurers more money than they should be getting. But ultimately, you’ve got to be able to get the best care based on what the doctor says.
And it sounds like that is eventually what happened. It may be that it wasn’t as efficient — it wasn’t as smooth as it should have been, but that result is actually a good one. And you think about all the situations where a generic actually would have worked — in fact, one of the things I want to do is to speed up generics getting introduced to the marketplace, because right now drug companies — (applause) — right now drug companies are fighting so that they can keep essentially their patents on their brand-name drugs a lot longer. And if we can make those patents a little bit shorter, generics get on the market sooner, ultimately you as consumers will save money. All right? But it was an excellent question, so thank you.
All right, it’s a young woman’s turn — or a lady’s turn. Right here. Yes, you.
Q Good afternoon, Mr. President. I’m Jackie Millet (phonetic) and I’m from Wells, Maine, and my question is, I am presently on Medicare and I do have a supplement. But if something happens to my husband, I lose the supplement. And what will happen? I take a lot of medications. I need a lot — I’ve had a lot of procedures. And how will Medicare under the new proposal help people who are going to need things like this?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, another myth that we’ve been hearing about is this notion that somehow we’re going to be cutting your Medicare benefits. We are not. AARP would not be endorsing a bill if it was undermining Medicare, okay? So I just want seniors to be clear about this, because if you look at the polling, it turns out seniors are the ones who are most worried about health care reform. And that’s understandable, because they use a lot of care, they’ve got Medicare, and it’s already hard for a lot of people even on Medicare because of the supplements and all the other costs out of pocket that they’re still paying.
So I just want to assure we’re not talking about cutting Medicare benefits. We are talking about making Medicare more efficient, eliminating the insurance subsidies, working with hospitals so that they are changing some of the reimbursement practices.
Right now hospitals, they are not penalized if there are constant readmission rates from patients that have gone through the hospital. If you go to a — if you go to a car company or a auto shop, if you say, “Can I have my car repaired?”, you get your car repaired — if two weeks later it’s broken down again, if you take it back, hopefully they’re not going to charge you again for repairing the car. You want them to do it right the first time. And too often we’re not seeing the best practices in some of these hospitals to prevent people from being readmitted. That costs a lot of money. So those are the kinds of changes we’re talking about.
Now, in terms of savings for you as a Medicare recipient, the biggest one is on prescription drugs, because the prescription drug companies have already said that they would be willing to put up $80 billion in rebates for prescription drugs as part of a health care reform package.
Now, we may be able to get even more than that. But think about it. When the prescription drug plan was passed, Medicare Part D, they decided they weren’t going to negotiate with the drug companies for the cheapest available price on drugs. And as a consequence, seniors are way over-paying — there’s that big doughnut hole that forces them to go out of pocket. You say you take a lot of medications; that means that doughnut hole is always something that’s looming out there for you. If we can cut that doughnut hole in half, that’s money directly out of your pocket. And that’s one of the reasons that AARP is so supportive, because they see this as a way of potentially saving seniors a lot of money on prescription drugs. Okay?
All right. The gentleman right here in the white shirt.
Q Good afternoon, Mr. President. My name is Ben Hershinson (ph). I’m from Ogunquit, Maine, and also Florida. And I’m a Republican — I don’t know what I’m doing here, but I’m here. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: We’re happy to have you. We’re happy to have you. (Applause.)
Q Mr. President, you’ve been quoted over the years — when you were a senator and perhaps even before then — that you were essentially a supporter of a universal plan. I’m beginning to see that you’re changing that. Do you honestly believe that? Because that is my concern. I’m on Medicare, but I still worry that if we go to a public option, period, that the private companies, the insurance companies, rather than competing — because who can compete with the government; the answer is nobody. So my question is do you still — as yourself, now — support a universal plan? Or are you open to the private industry still being maintained?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think it’s an excellent question, so I appreciate the chance to respond. First of all, I want to make a distinction between a universal plan versus a single-payer plan, because those are two different things.
A single-payer plan would be a plan like Medicare for all, or the kind of plan that they have in Canada, where basically government is the only person — is the only entity that pays for all health care. Everybody has a government-paid-for plan, even though in, depending on which country, the doctors are still private or the hospitals might still be private. In some countries, the doctors work for the government and the hospitals are owned by the government. But the point is, is that government pays for everything, like Medicare for all. That is a single-payer plan.
I have not said that I was a single-payer supporter because, frankly, we historically have had a employer-based system in this country with private insurers, and for us to transition to a system like that I believe would be too disruptive. So what would end up happening would be, a lot of people who currently have employer-based health care would suddenly find themselves dropped, and they would have to go into an entirely new system that had not been fully set up yet. And I would be concerned about the potential destructiveness of that kind of transition.
All right? So I’m not promoting a single-payer plan.
I am promoting a plan that will assure that every single person is able to get health insurance at an affordable price, and that if they have health insurance they are getting a good deal from the insurance companies. That’s what I’m fighting for. (Applause.)
Now, the way we have approached it, is that if you’ve got health care under a private plan, if your employer provides you health care or you buy your own health care and you’re happy with it, you won’t have to change.
What we’re saying is, if you don’t have health care, then you will be able to go to an exchange similar to the menu of options that I used to have as a member of Congress, and I can look and see what are these various private health care plans offering, what’s a good deal, and I’ll be able to buy insurance from that exchange. And because it’s a big pool, I’ll be able to drive down costs, I’ll get a better deal than if I was trying to get health insurance on my own.
This is true, by the way, for small businesses, as well. A lot of small businesses, they end up paying a lot more than large businesses per person for health care, because they’ve got no bargaining power, they’ve got no leverage. So we wanted small businesses to be able to buy into this big pool, okay?
Now, the only thing that I have said is that having a public option in that menu would provide competition for insurance companies to keep them honest.
Now, I recognize, though, you make a legitimate — you raise a legitimate concern. People say, well, how can a private company compete against the government? And my answer is that if the private insurance companies are providing a good bargain, and if the public option has to be self-sustaining — meaning taxpayers aren’t subsidizing it, but it has to run on charging premiums and providing good services and a good network of doctors, just like any other private insurer would do — then I think private insurers should be able to compete. They do it all the time. (Applause.)
I mean, if you think about — if you think about it, UPS and FedEx are doing just fine, right? No, they are. It’s the Post Office that’s always having problems. (Laughter.)
So right now you’ve got private insurers who are out there competing effectively, even though a lot of people get their care through Medicare or Medicaid or VA. So there’s nothing inevitable about this somehow destroying the private marketplace, as long as — and this is a legitimate point that you’re raising — that it’s not set up where the government is basically being subsidized by the taxpayers, so that even if they’re not providing a good deal, we keep on having to pony out more and more money. And I’ve already said that can’t be the way the public option is set up. It has to be self-sustaining.
Does that answer your question? Okay, thank you. (Applause.)
All right, right there. Go ahead.
Q Hello, Mr. President. My name is Linda Becher (ph). I’m from Portsmouth and I have proudly taught at this high school for 37 years.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, congratulations.
Q Thank you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: What do you teach?
Q I teach English and Journalism.
THE PRESIDENT: Excellent.
Q Yes, thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Sure.
Q And in those 37 years, I’ve been lucky enough to have very good health care coverage and my concerns currently are for those who do not. And I guess my question is if every American who needed it has access to good mental health care, what do you think the impact would be on our society?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you raise the — (applause) — you know, mental health has always been undervalued in the health insurance market. And what we now know is, is that somebody who has severe depression has a more debilitating and dangerous illness than somebody who’s got a broken leg. But a broken leg, nobody argues that’s covered. Severe depression, unfortunately, oftentimes isn’t even under existing insurance policies.
So I think — I’ve been a strong believer in mental health parity, recognizing that those are serious illnesses. (Applause.) And I would like to see a mental health component as part of a package that people are covered under, under our plan. Okay? (Applause.)
All right. This gentleman right here.
Q Hello, Mr. President. I’m Justin Higgins from Stratham, New Hampshire.
THE PRESIDENT: How are you, Justin?
Q Fine, thank you. There’s a lot of misinformation about how we’re going to pay for this health care plan. And I’m wondering how we’re going to do this without raising the taxes on the middle class, because I don’t want the burden to fall on my parents, and also I’m a college student so –
THE PRESIDENT: They’ve already got enough problems paying your college tuition. (Laughter.)
Q Exactly. Exactly.
THE PRESIDENT: I hear you.
Q Also I’m looking towards my future with career options and opportunities and I don’t want inflation to skyrocket by just adding this to the national debt. So I’m wondering how we can avoid both of those scenarios. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Right, it’s a great question. First of all, I said I won’t sign a bill that adds to the deficit or the national debt. Okay? So this will have to be paid for. That, by the way, is in contrast to the prescription drug bill that was passed that cost hundreds of billions of dollars, by the previous administration and previous Congress, that was not paid for at all, and that was a major contributor to our current national debt.
That’s why you will forgive me if sometimes I chuckle a little bit when I hear all these folks saying, “oh, big-spending Obama” — when I’m proposing something that will be paid for and they signed into law something that wasn’t, and they had no problem with it. Same people, same folks. And they say with a straight face how we’ve got to be fiscally responsible. (Applause.)
Now, having said that, paying for it is not simple. I don’t want to pretend that it is. By definition, if we’re helping people who currently don’t have health insurance, that’s going to cost some money. It’s been estimated to cost somewhere between, let’s say, $800 billion and a trillion dollars over 10 years. Now, it’s important that we’re talking about over 10 years because sometimes the number “trillion” gets thrown out there and everybody think it’s a trillion dollars a year — gosh, that — how are we going to do that? So it’s about a hundred billion dollars a year to cover everybody and to implement some of the insurance reforms that we’re talking about.
About two-thirds of those costs we can cover by eliminating the inefficiencies that I already mentioned. So I already talked about $177 billion worth of subsidies to the insurance companies. Let’s take that money, let’s put it in the kitty. There’s about $500 billion to $600 billion over 10 years that can be saved without cutting benefits for people who are currently receiving Medicare, actually making the system more efficient over time.
That does still leave, though, anywhere from $300 billion to $400 billion over 10 years, or $30 billion to $40 billion a year. That does have to be paid for, and we will need new sources of revenue to pay for it. And I’ve made a proposal that would — I want to just be very clear — the proposal, my preferred approach to this would have been to take people like myself who make more than $250,000 a year, and limit the itemized deductions that we can take to the same level as middle-class folks can take them. (Applause.)
Right now, the average person — the average middle-class family, they’re in the 28-percent tax bracket, and so they basically can itemize, take a deduction that is about 28 percent. I can take — since I’m in a much higher tax bracket, I can take a much bigger deduction. And so as a consequence, if I give a charitable gift, I get a bigger break from Uncle Sam than you do.
So what I’ve said is let’s just even it out. That would actually raise sufficient money. Now, that was my preferred way of paying for it. Members of Congress have had different ideas. And we are still exploring these ideas.
By the time that we actually have a bill that is set, that is reconciled between House and Senate and is voted on, it will be very clear what those ideas are. My belief is, is that it should not burden people who make $250,000 a year or less.
And I think that’s the commitment that I made, the pledge that I made when I was up here running in New Hampshire, folks.
So I don’t want anybody saying somehow that I’m pulling the bait- and-switch here. I said very specifically I thought we should roll back Bush tax cuts and use them to pay for health insurance. That’s what I’m intending to do. All right? (Applause.)
Okay, I’ve only got time for a couple more questions. Somebody here who has a concern about health care that has not been raised, or is skeptical and suspicious and wants to make sure that — because I don’t want people thinking I just have a bunch of plants in here. All right, so I’ve got one right here — and then I’ll ask the guy with two hands up because he must really have a burning question. (Laughter.)
All right, go ahead.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. I’ve worked in the medical field for about 18 years and seen a lot of changes over those 18 years. I currently work here at the high school as a paraprofessional. I have a little, you know, couple questions about the universal insurance program, which, if I understand you correctly, President Obama, you seek to cover 50 million new people over and above the amount of people that are currently getting health care at this moment.
THE PRESIDENT: It will probably — I just want to be honest here. There are about 46 million people who are uninsured. And under the proposals that we have, even if you have an individual mandate, probably only about 37-38 million, so somewhere in that ballpark.
Q Okay, I’m off a little bit. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: No, no, I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t over-selling my plan here.
Q That’s okay, Mr. President. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: She’s okay –
Q He winked at me. (Laughter.) My concern is for where are we going to get the doctors and nurses to cover these? Right now I know that there’s a really — people are not going to school to become teachers to teach the nursing staffs. Doctors have huge capacities; some of them are leaving private to go to administrative positions because of the caseload that they’re being made to hold. I really do feel that there will be more demand with this universal health care and no added supply. I also understand that it was to be taken from Medicare, about $500 billion — correct me if I’m wrong on that.
THE PRESIDENT: I just said that.
Q Okay. Also, you know, I’m very, very concerned about the elderly. I don’t know if this is also correct, but I understand that a federal health board will sit in judgment of medical procedures and protocols to impose guidelines on all providers — when to withhold certain types of care — like, what is the point you get to when we say, I’m sorry that this cannot happen. Thank you very much for letting me ask those questions, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Of course. Well, first of all, I already mentioned that we would be taking savings out of Medicare that are currently going to insurance subsidies, for example. So that is absolutely true.
I just want to be clear, again: Seniors who are listening here, this does not affect your benefits. This is not money going to you to pay for your benefits; this is money that is subsidizing folks who don’t need it. So that’s point number one.
Point number two: In terms of these expert health panels — well, this goes to the point about “death panels” — that’s what folks are calling them. The idea is actually pretty straightforward, which is if we’ve got a panel of experts, health experts, doctors, who can provide guidelines to doctors and patients about what procedures work best in what situations, and find ways to reduce, for example, the number of tests that people take — these aren’t going to be forced on people, but they will help guide how the delivery system works so that you are getting higher-quality care. And it turns out that oftentimes higher-quality care actually costs less.
So let me just take the example of testing. Right now, a lot of Medicare patients — you have something wrong with you, you go to your doctor, doctor checks up on you, maybe he takes — has a test, he administers a test. You go back home, you get the results, the doctor calls you and says, okay, now you got to go to this specialist. Then you have to take another trip to the specialist. The specialist doesn’t have the first test, so he does his own test. Then maybe you’ve got to, when you go to the hospital, you’ve got to take a third test.
Now, each time taxpayers, under Medicare, are paying for that test. So for a panel of experts to say, why don’t we have all the specialists and the doctors communicating after the first test and let’s have electronic medical records so that we can forward the results of that first test to the others — (applause) — that’s a sensible thing to do. That is a sensible thing to do.
So we want — if I’m a customer, if I’m a consumer and I know that I’m overpaying $6,000 for anything else, I would immediately want the best deal. But for some reason, in health care, we continue to put up with getting a bad deal. We’re paying $6,000 more than any other advanced country and we’re not healthier for it — $6,000 per person more, per year. That doesn’t make any sense. So there’s got to be a lot of waste in the system. And the idea is to have doctors, nurses, medical experts look for it.
Now, the last question that you asked is very important and I don’t have a simple solution to this. If you look at the makeup of the medical profession right now, we have constant nurses shortages and we have severe shortages of primary care physicians. Primary care physicians, ideally family physicians, they should be the front lines of the medical profession in encouraging prevention and wellness. (Applause.) But the problem is, is that primary care physicians, they make a lot less money than specialists –
AUDIENCE MEMBER: And nurse practitioners.
THE PRESIDENT: And nurse practitioners, too. (Applause.) And nurses, you’ve got a whole other issue which you already raised, which is the fact that not only are nurses not paid as well as they should, but you also have — nursing professors are paid even worse than nurses. So as a consequence, you don’t have enough professors to teach nursing, which means that’s part of the reason why you’ve got such a shortage of nurses.
So we are going to be taking steps, as part of reform, to deal with expanding primary care physicians and our nursing corps. On the doctors’ front, one of the things we can do is to reimburse doctors who are providing preventive care and not just the surgeon who provides care after somebody is sick. (Applause.) Nothing against surgeons. I want surgeons — I don’t want to be getting a bunch of letters from surgeons now. I’m not dissing surgeons here. (Laughter.)
All I’m saying is let’s take the example of something like diabetes, one of — a disease that’s skyrocketing, partly because of obesity, partly because it’s not treated as effectively as it could be. Right now if we paid a family — if a family care physician works with his or her patient to help them lose weight, modify diet, monitors whether they’re taking their medications in a timely fashion, they might get reimbursed a pittance. But if that same diabetic ends up getting their foot amputated, that’s $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 — immediately the surgeon is reimbursed. Well, why not make sure that we’re also reimbursing the care that prevents the amputation, right? That will save us money. (Applause.)
So changing reimbursement rates will help. The other thing that will really help both nurses and doctors, helping pay for medical education for those who are willing to go into primary care. And that’s something that we already started to do under the Recovery Act, and we want to do more of that under health care reform. (Applause.)
All right, last question, last question right here. This is a skeptic, right?
Q I am a skeptic.
THE PRESIDENT: Good.
Q Thank you, Mr. President, for coming to Portsmouth. My name is Michael Layon (ph). I’m from Derry, New Hampshire, District 1 in the congressional district. I’m one of the people that turned myself in on the White House Web page the other day for being a skeptic of this bill. I’m proud to have done so.
THE PRESIDENT: Before you ask this question, just because you referred to it, can I just say this is another example of how the media ends up just completing distorting what’s taken place. What we’ve said is that if somebody has — if you get an e-mail from somebody that says, for example, “Obamacare is creating a death panel,” forward us the e-mail and we will answer the question that’s raised in the e-mail. Suddenly, on some of these news outlets, this is being portrayed as “Obama collecting an enemies list.” (Laughter.)
Now, come on, guys. You know, here I am trying to be responsive to questions that are being raised out there –
Q And appreciate it. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: And I just want to be clear that all we’re trying to do is answer questions.
All right, go ahead.
Q So my question is for you, and I know in the White House the stand which you’re on has often been referred to as the bully pulpit. Why have you not used the bully pulpit to chastise Congress for having two systems of health care — one for all of us, and one for them? (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, first of all, if we don’t have health care reform, the gap between what Congress gets and what ordinary Americans get will continue to be as wide as it is right now. And you are absolutely right — I don’t think Carol or Paul would deny they’ve got a pretty good deal. They’ve got a pretty good deal. I mean, the fact is, is that they are part — by the way, I want you to know, though, their deal is no better than the janitor who cleans their offices; because they are part of a federal health care employee plan, it is a huge pool. So you’ve got millions of people who are part of the pool, which means they’ve got enormous leverage with the insurance companies, right? So they can negotiate the same way that a big Fortune 500 company can negotiate, and that drives down their costs — they get a better deal.
Now, what happens is, those members of Congress — and when I was a senator, same situation — I could, at the beginning of the year, look at a menu of a variety of different health care options, most of them — these are all private plans or they could be non-for-profit, Blue Cross Blue Shield, or Aetna, or what have you — they would have these plans that were offered. And then we would then select what plan worked best for us.
But there were certain requirements — if you wanted to sell insurance to federal employees there were certain things you had to do. You had to cover certain illnesses. You couldn’t exclude for preexisting conditions. I mean, there were a lot of rules that had been negotiated by the federal government for those workers.
Now, guess what. That’s exactly what we want to do with health care reform. (Applause.) We want to make sure that you are getting that same kind of option. That’s what the health exchange is all about, is that you — just like a member of Congress — can go and choose the plan that’s right for you. You don’t have to. If you’ve got health care that you like, you don’t have to use it.
So for example, for a while, Michelle, my wife, worked at the University of Chicago Hospital. She really liked her coverage that she was getting through the University of Chicago Hospital, so I did not have to use the federal employee plan. But I had that option available.
The same is true for you. Nobody is going to force you to be part of that plan. But if you look at it and you say, you know what, this is a good deal and I’ve got more leverage because maybe I’m a small business or maybe I’m self-employed, or maybe I’m like Lori and nobody will take me because of a preexisting condition, and now suddenly got these rules set up — why wouldn’t I want to take advantage of that?
Now, there are legitimate concerns about the cost of the program, so I understand if you just think no matter what, no matter how good the program is, you don’t think that we should be paying at all for additional people to be covered, then you’re probably going to be against health care reform and I can’t persuade you. There are legitimate concerns about the public option — the gentleman who raised his hand. I think it’s a good idea, but I understand some people just philosophically think that if you set up a public option, that that will drive public insurance out — or private insurers out. I think that’s a legitimate concern. I disagree with it, but that’s a legitimate debate to have.
But I want everybody to understand, though, the status quo is not working for you. (Applause.) The status quo is not working for you. And if we can set up a system, which I believe we can, that gives you options, just like members of Congress has options; that gives a little bit of help to people who currently are working hard every day but they don’t have health care insurance on the job; and most importantly, if we can make sure that you, all of you who have insurance, which is probably 80 or 90 percent of you, that you are not going to be dropped because of a preexisting condition, or because you lose your job, or because you change your job — that you’re actually going to get what you paid for, that you’re not going to find out when you’re sick that you got cheated, that you’re not going to hit a lifetime cap where you thought you were paying for insurance but after a certain amount suddenly you’re paying out of pocket and bankrupting yourself and your family — if we can set up a system that gives you some security, that’s worth a lot.
And this is the best chance we’ve ever had to do that. But we’re all going to have to come together, we’re going to have to make it happen. I am confident we can do so, but I’m going to need your help, New Hampshire.
Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you. (Applause.)
END 2:15 P.M. EDT
Statement by the President on Aung San Suu Kyi’s conviction and sentencing
The conviction and sentencing of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi today on charges related to an uninvited intrusion into her home violate universal principles of human rights, run counter to Burma’s commitments under the ASEAN charter, and demonstrate continued disregard for UN Security Council statements. I join the international community in calling for Aung San Suu Kyi’s immediate unconditional release.
Today’s unjust decision reminds us of the thousands of other political prisoners in Burma who, like Aung San Suu Kyi, have been denied their liberty because of their pursuit of a government that respects the will, rights, and aspirations of all Burmese citizens. They, too, should be freed. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. I call on the Burmese regime to heed the views of its own people and the international community and to work towards genuine national reconciliation.
I am also concerned by the sentencing of American citizen John Yettaw to seven years in prison, a punishment out of proportion with his actions.
STATEMENT FROM THE VICE PRESIDENT ON THE PASSING OF EUNICE KENNEDY SHRIVER
Jill and I are deeply saddened by the news of Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s passing. Eunice was one of those rare individuals whose energy and spirit were contagious. She inspired everyone around her to be better, to see beyond themselves, and to experience joy in life through service.
Not long after her brother John became President in 1961, Eunice convinced him and their siblings to reveal a closely guarded family secret: that their sister Rosemary had an intellectual disability. I will never forget the groundbreaking and personal story she wrote about Rosemary for The Saturday Evening Post, in which Eunice brought to light the hidden lives, and the amazing untapped potential, of people with intellectual disabilities.
But that was only the beginning. Starting in her own backyard in Maryland, she opened summer camps all over the country so that young people with intellectual disabilities could engage in sports, make friends, and demonstrate to themselves and others what they were capable of — if only given the chance. And in 1968, at the first Special Olympics World Summer Games in Chicago, what was to become a global movement was born. Today, thanks to Eunice and countless other dedicated individuals she inspired, Special Olympics serves over 3 million athletes with intellectual disabilities in every corner of the globe.
Even that was not enough for Eunice. Special Olympics — her creation — today provides not only sports opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities, but also supports families, provides health screenings and services, educates and engages youth around acceptance and tolerance, and leads a cutting-edge research agenda aimed at improving the well-being of this population.
And yet that is only part of the extraordinary legacy Eunice leaves us. There is also her marriage of 56 years to Sarge — the love of her life and her life’s partner in their work to engage young people in service. That work spread across the globe, but it started in the Shriver home. Eunice and Sarge infused a deep commitment to service in their children — Bobby, Maria, Tim, Mark, and Anthony — each of whom continues her fight to give voice and power to the poor, disenfranchised, and forgotten segments of society around the world.
Our hearts are heavy but full of gratitude for these lasting gifts. Our thoughts and prayers are with her children, their father, and the entire Shriver and Kennedy families.
STATEMENT FROM THE PRESIDENT ON THE PASSING OF EUNICE KENNEDY SHRIVER
Michelle and I were deeply saddened to learn about the passing of Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Eunice was many things to many people: a mother who inspired her children to serve others; a wife who supported her husband Sargent in the Peace Corps and in politics; and a sister to her siblings, including brothers John, Robert, and Edward. But above all, she will be remembered as the founder of the Special Olympics, as a champion for people with intellectual disabilities, and as an extraordinary woman who, as much as anyone, taught our nation – and our world – that no physical or mental barrier can restrain the power of the human spirit. Her leadership greatly enriched the lives of Special Olympians throughout the world, who have experienced the pride and joy of competition and achievement thanks to her vision. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sargent; their children Robert, Maria, Timothy, Mark, and Anthony; and the entire Kennedy family.
Breaking News: Michael Jackson Toxicology Results In! Los Angeles Police Department Puts Temporary Lid On Coroner Findings Pending Further Investigation!
The Los Angeles Coroner’s Office have completed its investigation into how and why Michael Jackson went into a sudden cardiac arrest and subsequently died on June 25. But those findings have been sealed until homicide detectives wrap up their own investigation into the death of Michael Jackson. Sources close to the case say that homicide detectives are still interviewing a number of doctors and persons of interest that Jackson allegedly kept inside his private circle.
Sources within the Jackson compound claim that the family have hired an independent investigator to track down leads concerning several events that took place the night before and the day of Michael Jackson’s death. Jackson biographer Ian Halperin alleges that on June 24th, the night before he died, Michael “got into a shouting match about finances. That was when Michael said he was calling off the tour. He (Michael) said some advisers didn’t care about his welfare. He demanded an aide call his father. He said his father was the only person who could clean up this mess.”
Halperin says that Michael allegedly “begged to see his father but was told that they couldn’t get hold of him. If Joe Jackson had seen him that night, I believe Michael would still be alive.”
Well, that account parallels Joe Jackson’s interview on Larry King. Jackson told Larry King that he tried on various ocassions to get in touch with his son and he couldn’t. Joe Jackson said that he was even turned away at the gate fo Michael’s residence. There is so much more to the Michael Jackson story than we all know and the coroner’s report is not the icing on the cake, yet just one more puzzle piece waiting to be complete the whole picture.
Liza Minnelli said on the day of Michael’s death that the toxicology report would be an eye-opener into the life that he lived behind closed doors. She alluded to the fact that we would never look at him the same after hearing the results. She was right. However, if Michael Jackson was the tormented, lonely musical icon that he was and sought relief from the constant pain he was in through prescription drugs and became an addict as millions of Americans find themselves each year, then his story belongs to ALL of us.
Joe Jackson may be many things, but in his grief, truth rings out crystal clear. Something foul happened on June 25, 2009.
Prepared Remarks of President Barack Obama
Saturday, August 8th, 2009
On Friday, we received better news than we expected about the state of our economy. We learned that we lost 247,000 jobs in July – some 200,000 fewer jobs lost than in June, and far fewer than the nearly 700,000 a month we were losing at the beginning of the year. Of course, this is little comfort to anyone who saw their job disappear in July, and to the millions of Americans who are looking for work. And I will not rest until anyone who’s looking for work can find a job.
Still, this month’s jobs numbers are a sign that we’ve begun to put the brakes on this recession and that the worst may be behind us. But we must do more than rescue our economy from this immediate crisis; we must rebuild it stronger than before. We must lay a new foundation for future growth and prosperity, and a key pillar of a new foundation is health insurance reform – reform that we are now closer to achieving than ever before.
There are still details to be hammered out. There are still differences to be reconciled. But we are moving toward a broad consensus on reform. Four committees in Congress have produced legislation – an unprecedented level of agreement on a difficult and complex challenge. In addition to the ongoing work in Congress, providers have agreed to bring down costs. Drug companies have agreed to make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors. The AARP supports reform because of the better care it will offer seniors. And the American Nurses Association and the American Medical Association, which represent the millions of nurses and doctors who know our health care system best, all support reform, as well.
As we draw close to finalizing – and passing – real health insurance reform, the defenders of the status quo and political point-scorers in Washington are growing fiercer in their opposition. In recent days and weeks, some have been using misleading information to defeat what they know is the best chance of reform we have ever had. That is why it is important, especially now, as Senators and Representatives head home and meet with their constituents, for you, the American people, to have all the facts.
So, let me explain what reform will mean for you. And let me start by dispelling the outlandish rumors that reform will promote euthanasia, cut Medicaid, or bring about a government takeover of health care. That’s simply not true. This isn’t about putting government in charge of your health insurance; it’s about putting you in charge of your health insurance. Under the reforms we seek, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.
And while reform is obviously essential for the 46 million Americans who don’t have health insurance, it will also provide more stability and security to the hundreds of millions who do. Right now, we have a system that works well for the insurance industry, but that doesn’t always work well for you. What we need, and what we will have when we pass health insurance reform, are consumer protections to make sure that those who have insurance are treated fairly and that insurance companies are held accountable.
We will require insurance companies to cover routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms, colonoscopies, or eye and foot exams for diabetics, so we can avoid chronic illnesses that cost too many lives and too much money.
We will stop insurance companies from denying coverage because of a person’s medical history. I will never forget watching my own mother, as she fought cancer in her final days, worrying about whether her insurer would claim her illness was a preexisting condition. I have met so many Americans who worry about the same thing. That’s why, under these reforms, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage because of a previous illness or injury. And insurance companies will no longer be allowed to drop or water down coverage for someone who has become seriously ill. Your health insurance ought to be there for you when it counts – and reform will make sure it is.
With reform, insurance companies will also have to limit how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses. And we will stop insurance companies from placing arbitrary caps on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime because no one in America should go broke because of illness.
In the end, the debate about health insurance reform boils down to a choice between two approaches. The first is almost guaranteed to double health costs over the next decade, make millions more Americans uninsured, leave those with insurance vulnerable to arbitrary denials of coverage, and bankrupt state and federal governments. That’s the status quo. That’s the health care system we have right now.
So, we can either continue this approach, or we can choose another one – one that will protect people against unfair insurance practices; provide quality, affordable insurance to every American; and bring down rising costs that are swamping families, businesses, and our budgets. That’s the health care system we can bring about with reform.
There are those who are focused on the so-called politics of health care; who are trying to exploit differences or concerns for political gain. That’s to be expected. That’s Washington. But let’s never forget that this isn’t about politics. This is about people’s lives. This is about people’s businesses. This is about America’s future. That’s what is at stake. That’s why health insurance reform is so important. And that’s why we must get this done – and why we will get this done – by the end of this year.
North American Leaders’ Declaration on H1N1
Building on the strong record of our trilateral cooperation during the spring of this year, we will remain vigilant and pledge to continue our close collaboration in addressing the H1N1 pandemic. We agree to work together to ensure that we have effective strategies, grounded in the best available science.
Our governments have worked closely together since the very beginning of this outbreak to protect the health of our citizens. During the onset of the H1N1 outbreak, we worked to implement science and evidence-based measures in our countries and on our borders. These measures were geared to provide an appropriate public health response. Movement across our shared borders is essential to the economic health of our countries. We recognize that highly restrictive measures such as general border closures would be unlikely to prevent the spread of this virus and could aggravate the economic and social consequences of an influenza pandemic.
We continue to study the severity and progression of the virus both here and in other parts of the world to help inform future public health decisions, including the use of vaccine, antiviral, and non-pharmaceutical interventions. Through regular communications; exchange of scientific knowledge, expert personnel, and clinical data; and shared access to laboratory facilities, we have been working to promote the health of the people of our three nations.
In anticipation of a possible fall wave of flu due to the 2009 H1N1 virus, we will look to enhance our exchange of information, ensure common understanding on the effectiveness of public health measures, and share expertise through technical assistance and capacity building. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure that our people have timely and accurate information, and that our citizens are as prepared as they can be. In this regard, we will focus our attention on mitigating the effects of the outbreak in our communities. We encourage all families in North America to learn more about the simple steps they can take to prevent the spread of the flu, including frequent hand washing with soap and water, coughing into your sleeve, and staying home when sick to help prevent illness and the spread of the virus to others.
We know that cooperation and communication between nations, governments, citizens, and domestic and international organizations are the most effective ways to ensure that we are all protected. The strong collaboration between our countries allowed us to have a more secure North America region. We are proud that our countries have collaborated so effectively to this point, and we are firmly committed to continuing to work together in the months ahead. We will continue to work collaboratively with the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization and support their leadership in facilitating international and regional collaboration in addressing this global issue.
JOINT STATEMENT BY NORTH AMERICAN LEADERS
Guadalajara, August 2009
We, the leaders of North America, have come together in Guadalajara to promote the global competitiveness of our region, foster the well-being of our citizens, and make our countries more secure. We build our collaboration on the understanding that our deepening ties are a source of strength and that challenges and opportunities in one North American country can and do affect us all. North American cooperation is rooted in shared values, complementary strengths, and the dynamism of our peoples. We are confident that working together we can help our societies thrive in the challenging, competitive, and promising century ahead.
North America’s coordinated response to the initial outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus has proven to be a global example of cooperation. We set an example of a joint, responsible, and transparent response, enabling other regions to react quickly to protect their populations. Through planning and foresight, we were quickly able to put effective health measures in place. We will remain vigilant and commit ourselves to continued and deepened cooperation. We will work together to learn from recent experiences and prepare North America for the upcoming influenza season, including building up our public health capacities and facilitating efficient information sharing among our countries.
Promoting recovery from the current global economic crisis is a priority for each of us. By working together, we will accelerate recovery and job creation, and build a strong base for long-term prosperity. We look forward to the coming G20 Summit in Pittsburgh and will join efforts to ensure that the G20 continues to advance effective global responses to the crisis, including working to strengthen international financial institutions that are vital to assisting countries to restore economic vibrancy. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) plays a crucial role in mitigating the effects of the crisis in the Americas, particularly for the most vulnerable citizens of our Hemisphere. We support an accelerated review of the IDB to ensure it has sufficient short-term lending capacity.
Our integrated economies are an engine of growth. We are investing in border infrastructure, including advanced technology, to create truly modern borders to facilitate trade and the smooth operation of supply chains, while protecting our security. Building on these investments, we will work together to strengthen the resilience of our critical infrastructure, which transcends borders and sustains the well-being of our communities and economies. We will cooperate in the protection of intellectual property rights to facilitate the development of innovative economies. We commend the progress achieved on reducing unnecessary regulatory differences and have instructed our respective Ministers to continue this work by building on the previous efforts, developing focused priorities and a specific timeline.
North American trade is a vital component of our economic well-being and we pledge to abide by our international responsibilities and avoid protectionist measures. We reiterate our commitment to reinvigorate our trading relationship and to ensure that the benefits of our economic relationship are widely shared and sustainable. We will seek to promote respect for labour rights and protection of the environment with a continuing dialogue to address the functioning of the Labor and Environmental side agreements. This dialogue must result in mutually agreeable and cooperative activities with the aim to enhance the well-being and prosperity of our citizens and the economic recovery of our countries.
We recognize climate change as one of the most daunting and pressing challenges of our time and a solution requires ambitious and coordinated efforts by all nations. Building on our respective national efforts, we will show leadership by working swiftly and responsibly to combat climate change as a region and to achieve a successful outcome at the 15th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. We also recognize that the competitiveness of our region and our sustainable growth requires a greater reliance on clean energy technologies and secure and reliable energy supplies across North America. Today, in agreeing to the “North American Leaders’ Declaration on Climate Change and Clean Energy”, we reaffirm our political commitment to work collaboratively to combat climate change.
Transnational criminal networks threaten all three of our countries. To dismantle them and to make our populations more secure, we will continue to deepen cooperation built upon the principles of shared responsibility, the strengthening of national institutions, and respect for our respective national legal frameworks. Canada and the United States recognize the commitment and the sacrifices of the Mexican people and Government as they confront the cartels threatening society, and we pledge to them our continued support. Our three governments recognize that we cannot limit our efforts to North America alone, and we have agreed to instruct our respective Ministers to strive for greater cooperation and coordination as we work to promote security and institutional development with our neighbors in Central America and the Caribbean.
We are deeply committed to helping strengthen democratic institutions and the rule of law throughout the Americas. We support a leading role for the Organization of American States (OAS) as we work together to strengthen implementation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. We have thoroughly discussed the coup in Honduras and reaffirm our support for the San José Accord and the ongoing OAS effort to seek a peaceful resolution of the political crisis – a resolution which restores democratic governance and the rule of law and respects the rights of all Hondurans.
We recognize and embrace citizen participation as an integral part of our work together in North America. We welcome the contributions of businesses, both large and small, and those of civil society groups, non-governmental organizations, academics, experts, and others. We have asked our Ministers to engage in such consultations as they work to realize the goals we have set for ourselves here in Guadalajara.
President Calderón and President Obama welcome Prime Minister Harper’s offer to host the next North American Leaders´ Summit in 2010. We will continue to work through this North American Leaders’ Summit process, in an inclusive and transparent manner, for the common benefit of the people of Mexico, Canada, and the United States.
Opportunist Alert: Former Child Star Claims He’s Paris Jackson’s Biological Dad Because He’s “Concerned” About Katherine Jackson’s Religious Beliefs! Then Shockingly Denies The Whole Thing…Sort Of! Whaaaat?!
Former child star Mark Lester, of 1968′s smash movie “Oliver!,” claimed Saturday that he is Paris Jackson’s biological father. Lester said that he and Michael Jackson were bosom buds and that Jackson had asked him for a sperm donation in hopes of starting a family. “I gave Michael my sperm so that he could have kids, ” Lester told a British tabloid.
Why did Mark Lester decide to come forth with this information? Lester told the tabloid that he became “concerned” about the Jackson childrens welfare when he learned that Katherine Jackson, a Jehovah’s Witness, received permanent custody. Lester revealed that he didn’t want the children to be indoctrinated by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
On Monday, Mark Lester uncatergorically denied that he was the father of Paris Jackson. In the previous admission, Lester stated that he was willing to take a paternity test to prove his claims. Now, Lester says that “I’m sure as far as I know, the children were all his (Michael Jackson).” That statement sounds surprisingly like Michael Jackson’s dermatologists’ sort of, round about denial. Or not.
Is is possible, that Mark Lester is an opportunists, looking to get work by making outrageous claims about parenting one or more of Michael Jacksons’ children or did Lester really give Jackson a sperm sample per his request? With two men claiming to have contributed to the sperm milkshake that was later inseminated in Debbie Rowe, it is becoming increasingly clear that maybe there is a thread of truth to this whole Mike isn’t the biological dad mystery.
However, legally if these two men are to believed, they still have no rights to the children. Upon donating sperm, release forms are filled out, dated and siigned where the donor willingly and knowingly relinguishes any paternal rights. What these two men should have done was what Debbie Rowe did: file a petition to have parental rights restored. Rowe did this a couple of years back.
But as for Mark Lester, saying that he is “concerned” because of Katherine Jackson’s religious practices is ridiculously stupid! If Michael Jackson didn’t want his children walking through the doors of a Kingdom Hall every week, he would have requested any one of his siblings or Diana Ross to be considered for custody. Hellooooo?