PORTLAND — Here is the full text of President Barack Obama’s remarks on health-care reform, as prepared for delivery on Thursday, April 1, at the Portland Expo:
Hello, Portland! It is so good to be back in the great state of Maine.
When I came here during the campaign, I made a promise. It wasn’t just a promise about any one issue. It was a promise that our government would once again be responsive to the needs and aspirations of the middle-class. It was a promise that Washington would concern itself not just with the next election, but with the next generation of Americans.
Keeping that promise is even more critical at a time when so many families and small business owners are still struggling here in Maine and across America. Every time I visit with workers in factories, and families in diners; every night when I sit down and read letters from everyday Americans; I see and hear the same questions. What folks are asking is “How am I going to find a job when I’ve only known one skill my entire life? How will I retire when I keep spending my savings just to get by? How am I going to make it when I’m stretched to the limit on my mortgage and my bills?”
I want you to know that we are working every day to spur job creation and turn this economy around. And that’s why we worked so hard over the last year to lift one of the biggest burdens facing middle-class families and small business owners: the crushing cost of health care in America.
Last week, after a year of debate and a century of trying, health insurance reform became the law of the land. And it happened because of you.
It happened because people had the courage to stand up at town hall meetings and talk about how insurance companies were denying their families coverage because of a pre-existing condition.
It happened because folks wrote letters about how premium hikes of 40 percent and 50 percent and 100 percent were forcing them to give up their insurance.
It happened because countless small business owners and families and doctors shared stories about a health care system that works better for the insurance industry than it does for the American people.
And when the special interests sent an army of lobbyists to Congress and blanketed the airwaves with millions in negative ads, you mobilized and organized and refused to give up. When the pundits were obsessing over who was up and who was down, you never lost sight of what was right and what was wrong. You knew this wasn’t about the fortunes of any one party – this was about the future of our country. And today, because of what you did, that future looks stronger and more hopeful than it has in some time.
Now, over the last year, there’s been a lot of misinformation spread about health care reform. There has been plenty of fear-mongering and overheated rhetoric. And if you turn on the news, you’ll see that those same folks are still shouting about how the world will end because we passed this bill. This is not an exaggeration. Leaders of the Republican Party have actually been calling the passage of this bill “Armageddon.” They say it’s the end of freedom as we know it.
So after I signed the bill, I looked up to see if there were any asteroids headed our way. I checked to see if any cracks had opened up in the ground. But you know what? It turned out to be a pretty nice day. Birds were chirping. Folks were strolling down the street. Nobody lost their doctor, or was forced into some government plan.
Then you have to love some of the pundits in Washington. Every day since I signed reform into law, there’s another poll or headline that says “Nation still divided on health reform. No great surge in public support.” Well, yeah. It’s only been a week! Before we find out if people like health care reform maybe we should wait until it actually happens. Just a thought.
This reform will not solve every problem with our health care system. It will not bring down the cost of health care overnight. We’ll have to make some adjustments along the way. But it represents enormous progress. It enshrines the principle that every American should have the security of decent health care; that nobody should go bankrupt because they get sick or have a child with a preexisting condition. And now that this bill is finally law, all the folks who’ve been playing politics with health care will have to finally confront the reality of what this reform is and what it isn’t.
They will have to finally acknowledge that this isn’t a government takeover of our health care system. They will see that if Americans like their doctor, they will keep their doctor. If people like their plan, they will keep their plan. No one will be able to take that away from you. It hasn’t happened yet and it won’t happen in the future.
What this reform represents is basically a middle-of-the-road solution to our health care problems. It’s not the single-payer, government-run system that some on the left have supported in the past. And it’s not what many on the right wanted, which was even fewer rules and regulations for insurance companies. Instead, this reform incorporates ideas from Democrats and Republicans – including some from your Senator and my friend, Olympia Snowe, who spent many hours meeting with me about this bill.
What this reform does is build on the system of private health insurance that we already have. If you already have insurance, this reform will make it more secure and more affordable. If you can’t afford insurance or have been denied coverage, you’ll finally be able to get it. And over time, costs will come down for families, businesses, and the federal government, reducing our deficit by more than $1 trillion over the next two decades. That’s what reform will do.
Now, it will take about four years to implement this entire plan – because we need to do it responsibly and we need to get it right. But there are also a set of reforms that will take effect this year.
Starting this year, millions of small business owners will be eligible for tax credits that will help them cover the cost of insurance for their employees. And let me talk about what this means for a small business owner like Bill Milliken. Bill owns Market House Coffee and the Maine Beer and Beverage Corporation, both here in Portland. He wants to give his part-time employees health insurance and more hours, but he can’t afford to do both. This tax credit will make it easier for an employer like Bill who wants to do the right thing by his workers.
Starting now, small business owners like Bill will have the security of knowing that they can qualify for a tax credit that covers up to 35 percent of what they pay for their employees’ health insurance. Starting now, small business owners that provide health care to their workers can sit down at the end of the week, look at their expenses, and begin calculating how much money they’re going to save. For small business owners who don’t currently provide health insurance, they’ll be able to factor in this new benefit in deciding whether to do so. And with that savings, employers may be able to cover an additional worker or hire that extra employee they’ve needed. This health care tax credit is pro-jobs, it’s pro-business, and it starts this year. This month, we’re going to be sending out details on how to apply for this credit to millions of small businesses across the county, but if you want to learn more today, we put up all the facts on www.whitehouse.gov.
Starting this year, tens of thousands of uninsured Americans with a preexisting condition and parents whose children have a pre-existing condition will finally be able to purchase the coverage they need. Last week, I met David Gallagher, whose daughter Lauren had written me a letter last year. When Lauren’s mom lost her job, their entire family lost their health insurance. When they tried to get new insurance, David was denied coverage because he once had a complication-free hernia surgery. Lauren’s been worried sick about what would happen if her father became ill or injured. But now, because of this reform, David Gallagher can finally have access to health insurance again. That starts this year.
This year, insurance companies will no longer be able to drop people’s coverage when they get sick; or place lifetime limits or restrictive annual limits on the amount of care they can receive. There was a story in a local paper this week about Theresa D’Andrea. Theresa’s husband passed away recently from cancer, and before he died, he hit the lifetime cap on his insurance. As a result, Theresa not only has to cope with the loss of her husband, but with $60,000 in medical bills – and this is after she already spent all of their retirement savings on medical care. Because of this reform, a situation like Theresa’s will never happen again in the United States of America – starting this year.
Starting this year, all new insurance plans will be required to offer free preventive care.
Starting this year, if you’re a young person who doesn’t have insurance or doesn’t have a job that offers insurance, you’ll be able to stay on your parents’ insurance policy until you’re 26 years old.
And this year, seniors who fall in the coverage gap known as the doughnut hole will receive $250 to help pay for prescriptions, which will be the first step toward closing that gap completely. And I want seniors to know: despite what some have said, these reforms will not cut your guaranteed benefits. What they will do is eliminate co-payments and deductibles for preventive care, like check-ups and mammograms.
So all that happens this year. Then, by 2014, each state will set up a health insurance exchange, a competitive marketplace where uninsured people and small businesses will finally be able to purchase affordable, quality insurance. In other words, they’ll be part of a pool, and get the same good deal that members of Congress get for themselves. That will happen in the next few years. And when this exchange is up and running, millions of people will get tax breaks to help them afford coverage – credits that add up to the largest middle class tax cut for health care in history.
This is the reform that some folks in Washington are still hollering about. And now that it’s passed, they’re already promising to repeal it. They’re actually going to run on a platform of repeal in November.
Well I say go for it. If these congressmen in Washington want to come here to Maine and tell small business owners that they plan to take away their tax credits and essentially raise their taxes, be my guest. If they want to look Lauren Gallagher in the eye and tell her they plan to take away her father’s ability to get health insurance, that’s their right. If they want to tell people like Theresa D’Andrea that they could once again face a lifetime of debt if they lose a family member, they can run on that platform. If they want to have that fight, I welcome that fight. Because I don’t believe the American people are going to put the insurance industry back in the driver’s seat. We’ve been there already and we’re not going back. This country is ready to move forward.
Portland, the road to this victory has been long and it has been difficult. And reaching this milestone does not represent the end of all our problems. We still have jobs to create and deficits to reduce and children to educate. We still face enormous challenges in this country.
But what this fight has taught us – about ourselves and about this country – is so much bigger than any one issue. It has reminded us that change is never easy, but it is always possible. It reminds us that in the United States of America, we still have the power to shape our own destiny. It has reminded us that we, as a people, do not shrink from a challenge. We overcome it. We do not shirk our responsibility. We embrace it. We do not fear the future. We shape the future. That is what we do. That is who we are. That’s what makes us the United States of America. Thank you Portland, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.