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Transcript: President Obama On Health Reform

Jul 17, 2009

A transcript of President Barack Obama's remarks on health reform legislation: 

OBAMA: Good afternoon.

I realize that Washington is often focused on the 24-hour news cycle instead of the long view, and I know that there is a good deal of that going on right now when it comes to health care. So I want everybody to just step back for a moment and look at the unprecedented progress that we've already made on reform that will finally lower costs, guarantee coverage, and provide more choice.

Over the last several weeks, we have forged a level of consensus around health insurance reform that we've never seen before in this country. In May, we were able to bring together health care providers around an agreement to do their part to decrease the annual rate of health care growth by 1.5 percentage points annually, which will save us $2 trillion or more over the next decade in lower costs for all of us.

A few weeks later, we got the pharmaceutical industry to agree to $80 billion in spending reductions over the next decade, reductions that will make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors. And that's partly why the AARP has endorsed our efforts.

Last week, we reached an agreement with hospitals to bring down costs by another $155 billion. And just this past week, both the American Nurses Association and the American Medical Association, representing millions of nurses and doctors across the nation who know our health care system best, announced their support for what we're trying to do.

In these past weeks, we've also built consensus around specific reforms on which there hasn't been consensus before. Let me list some of those, and I want to particularly applaud the efforts of the committees in the House and the Senate who've worked long and hard to make this progress.

We're now at a point where most everyone agrees that we need to invest in preventive and wellness programs that can save us money and help lead healthier lives.

OBAMA: We have an agreement on the need to simplify the insurance forms and paperwork that patients have to fill out every time they go to a hospital or see a doctor.

We have an agreement on the need to reform our health insurance system so that if you lose your job, change your job or start a small business, you can still get affordable health insurance.

We have an agreement on the need to prevent insurance companies from denying coverage to Americans with pre-existing medical conditions.

And we have agreement on the need for a health insurance exchange, a marketplace where people can compare prices and quality and choose the health care plan that best suits their needs.

So this is what health insurance reform will mean for the average American. It will mean lower costs, more choices and coverage you can count on. It will save you and your family money.

You won't have to worry about being priced out of the market. You won't have to worry about one illness leading to your family going into financial ruin.

Americans will have coverage that finally has stability and security, and Americans who don't have health insurance will finally have affordable quality options.

These are the areas where we agree right now. And this consensus has brought us closer to the goal of health insurance reform than ever before.

Now we've got to get over the finish line, and part of this process is figuring out how to pay for it. I've said that health insurance reform cannot add to our deficit over the next decade, and I mean it.

OBAMA: Let me repeat: Health insurance reform cannot add to our deficit over the next decade and I mean it.

Already, Congress has embraced our proposal to cut hundreds of billions of dollars in unnecessary spending and unwarranted giveaways to insurance companies in Medicare and Medicaid.

So we actually believe that about two-thirds of the costs of reforming health care could be achieved through these savings alone, without any new revenue.

Of course, that still leaves one-third of the costs in order for us to cover all Americans that we're still going to have to find a way to pay for. And the key committees in Congress are working diligently with the White House to see if we can come up with an agreement on that remaining one-third.

The bill I sign will also include my commitment and the commitment of Congress to slow the growth of health care costs over the long run.

This is a separate issue. And I just want to be clear. There's an issue of how do we pay for health care reform immediately, in a way that's deficit neutral, but how do we also bend the cost curve so that we're not seeing huge health care inflation over the long-term that would not only make any health care reform package more expensive 15, 20 years out, but would also make sure that people who have nothing to do with the government programs like Medicare and Medicaid, how do we make sure that their costs are under control as well?

I realize there's going to be a lot of debate and disagreement on how best to achieve these long-term savings. Our proposal would change incentives so that providers will give patients the best care, not just the most expensive care, which will mean big savings over time.

This is what we mean when we say that we need delivery system reform. I've proposed to Congress, and I am actually confident that they may adopt these proposals, that independent -- an independent group of doctors and medical experts will oversee long-term cost- savings measures.

Every year, there's a new report that details how much waste and inefficiency there is in Medicare, how best practices are not always used, and how many billions of dollars could be saved.

OBAMA: Unfortunately, this report ends up sitting on a shelf. And what we want to do is force the Congress to make sure that they are acting on these recommendations to bend the cost curve each and every year, so that we're constantly adjusting and making changes that will reduce costs for families and for taxpayers. We need an independent group that is empowered to make these changes, and that's something that we've proposed.

I'm confident that if we work with the foremost experts in the field, we can find a way to eliminate waste, slow the growth of health care costs, and provide families more security in the long term.

Now, I realize that the last few miles of any race are the hardest to run, but I have to say now is not the time to slow down, and now is certainly not the time to lose heart. Make no mistake, if we step back from this challenge at this moment, we are consigning our children to a future of skyrocketing premiums and crushing deficits. There's no argument about that.

If we don't achieve health care reform, we cannot control the costs of Medicare and Medicaid and we cannot control our long-term debt and our long-term deficits. That's not in dispute. So we're going to have to get this done.

If we don't get health care reform done now, then no one's health insurance is going to be secure, because you're going to continue to see premiums going up at astronomical rates, out-of-pocket costs going up at astronomical rates, and people who lose their jobs or have a preexisting medical condition or changing their jobs finding themselves in a situation where they cannot get health care.

And that's not a future that I accept for the United States of America. That's why those who are betting against this happening this year are badly mistaken.

We are going to get this done. We will reform health care. It will happen this year. I'm absolutely convinced of that.

I believe that members of Congress are prepared to work as hard as it is going to take to make this happen. And I am grateful for the work that they have already done. I'm confident that we're going to be putting in a lot more hours, there are going to be a lot more sleepless nights, but eventually this is going to happen.

Thank you very much.

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