Saturday, February 20, 2010

President Obama Says It's Time to Move Forward on Health Care Reform; Sebelius Warns That 'Doing Nothing' Poses Biggest Threat to Health Care Coverage

This morning, President Barack Obama [pictured above, during taping session] used his weekly address to call on Democratic and Republican leaders to attend next week’s health care meeting in good faith to find reforms that work for American individuals, families and small businesses.

With several health insurance companies recently announcing outrageously steep hikes in their rates -- from 10 to more than 30 percent -- it's clear that the status quo, while good for the insurance industry, is bad for the American people. After a year of exhaustive debate, he says it's time to move forward on reform.

Following, is the full text of President Obama's address:

"The other week, men and women across California opened up their mailboxes to find a letter from Anthem Blue Cross. The news inside was jaw-dropping. Anthem was alerting almost a million of its customers that it would be raising premiums by an average of 25 percent, with about a quarter of folks likely to see their rates go up by anywhere from 35 to 39 percent.

"Now, after their announcement stirred public outcry, Anthem agreed to delay their rate hike until May 1st, while the situation is reviewed by the state of California. But it’s not just Californians who are being hit by rate hikes. In Kansas, one insurance company raised premiums by 10 to 20 percent only after asking to raise them by 20 to 30 percent. Last year, Michigan Blue Cross Blue Shield raised rates by 22 percent after asking to raise them by up to 56 percent. And in Maine, Anthem is asking to raise rates for some folks by about 23 percent.

"The bottom line is that the status quo is good for the insurance industry and bad for America. Over the past year, as families and small-business owners have struggled to pay soaring health care costs, and as millions of Americans lost their coverage, the five largest insurers made record profits of over $12 billion.

"And, as bad as things are today, they’ll only get worse if we fail to act. We’ll see more and more Americans go without the coverage they need. We’ll see exploding premiums and out-of-pocket costs burn through more and more family budgets. We’ll see more and more small businesses scale back benefits, drop coverage, or close down because they can’t keep up with rising rates. And, in time, we’ll see these skyrocketing health care costs become the single largest driver of our federal deficits.

"That’s what the future is on track to look like. But it’s not what the future has to look like. The question, then, is whether we will do what it takes, all of us -- Democrats and Republicans -- to build a better future for ourselves, our children, and our country.

"That’s why, next week, I am inviting members of both parties to take part in a bipartisan health care meeting, and I hope they come in a spirit of good faith. I don’t want to see this meeting turn into political theater, with each side simply reciting talking points and trying to score political points. Instead, I ask members of both parties to seek common ground in an effort to solve a problem that’s been with us for generations.

"It’s in that spirit that I have sought out, and supported, Republican ideas on reform from the very beginning. Some Republicans want to allow Americans to purchase insurance from a company in another state to give people more choices and bring down costs. Some Republicans have also suggested giving small businesses the power to pool together and offer health care at lower prices, just as big companies and labor unions do. I think both of these are good ideas -- so long as we pursue them in a way that protects benefits, protects patients, and protects the American people. I hope Democrats and Republicans can come together next week around these and other ideas.

"To members of Congress, I would simply say this: We know the American people want us to reform our health insurance system. We know where the broad areas of agreement are. And we know where the sources of disagreement lie. After debating this issue exhaustively for a year, let’s move forward together. Next week is our chance to finally reform our health insurance system, so it works for families and small businesses. It’s our chance to finally give Americans the peace of mind of knowing that they’ll be able to have affordable coverage when they need it most.

"What’s being tested here is not just our ability to solve this one problem, but our ability to solve any problem. Right now, Americans are understandably despairing about whether partisanship and the undue influence of special interests in Washington will make it impossible for us to deal with the big challenges that face our country. They want to see us focus -- not on scoring points, but on solving problems; not on the next election, but on the next generation. That is what we can do, and that is what we must do when we come together for this bipartisan health care meeting next week. Thank you, and have a great weekend."

You can view the video of President Obama's weekly address here:

Sebelius Issues Dire Status-Quo Prognosis
Shortly after the address, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius -- a former Kansas governor and, before that, the state's insurance commissioner -- punctuated President Obama's remarks with a resonant warning for all Americans.

"A lot of people think that health insurance reform doesn't matter to them because they already have coverage," Sebelius wrote in a statement. "And it's easy to understand why some Americans might resist changing the insurance system for fear that significant reform would threaten what they have now.

"There is a threat to health care coverage in the country, but it isn't reform; it's doing nothing. Rising costs of insurance premiums are pushing more and more people into the ranks of the uninsured.

"At a time when health insurance companies are fighting as hard as ever to stop health reform, their actions couldn't show more clearly why we need it... If we don't pass reform, premiums will continue to rise, and Americans will continue to be at the mercy of the worst insurance company practices and abuses."

To stay atop the latest developments regarding health insurance reform, go to:

To learn about the far-reaching economic effects of health care reform on small businesses and their employees, visit:

For information about the myriad ways in which health insurance reform will actually reduce health care costs for small businesses, go to:

SOURCES: Council of Economic Advisers,, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, The White House [photo by Samantha Appleton]

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