WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama headed to Grand Junction, Colo., Saturday in his drive to overhaul the health care system.
There, he held his second town hall-style meeting on health care in as many days. In a Montana airport hangar Friday, Obama faced a largely friendly crowd but also took a pointed question about his plans to pay for the massive overhaul.
While in the West, Obama will tour some national treasures. He and the first lady visited Yellowstone Saturday morning and will go to the Grand Canyon on Sunday.
Obama Goes After Politicians Spreading "Death Panels" Lie At Colorado Town Hall:
"What you can't do, or you can, but you shouldn't do -- is start saying things like we want to set up death panels to pull the plug on grandma." President Obama paused and grew emotional, "First of all, when you make a comment like that, I just lost my grandmother last year... I know what its like to watch somebody you love, who's aging, deteriorate... When you start making arguments like that, that's simply dishonest. Especially when I hear the arguments coming from members of congress in the other party, who, it turns out, sponsored similar provisions!"
Opening remarks below:
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.