Many Health Access California staff, board members, and allies braved tough weather and flying conditions–which caused many to get stalled at airports across the country–to attend the Health Action 2011 conference hosted by Families USA. There was special reason to go this year, after last year’s passage of the historic health reform.
There was a star-studded list of presenters, including California Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Xavier Becerra. You can get a good sense of the comments and proceedings from the conference website, from our Twitter feed @healthaccess, or by using the Twitter hashtag #HA2011.
But the highlight was President Barack Obama himself, who thanked health and consumer advocates for their efforts in support of the passing of the Affordable Care Act. And the crowd was mightily appreciative of President Obama for his efforts as well.
Here’s some specific quotes from the speech:
Even before the pangs of this historic recession that we’ve just gone through — so four years ago, that was still on the horizon — our friends and neighbors were already dealing with the anxiety and the cruelty of a health care system that just did not work for too many American citizens.
We believed we could change that. We believed that we could finally guarantee quality, affordable care for every American. And even though I hadn’t announced my candidacy for this office, I joined you that day in a promise, that we would make health reform a reality by the end of the next President’s first term. That was our commitment.
That was our commitment, and together that is what we did. That is what you did. So thank you for all those years of work to help make it happen. I couldn’t be prouder of you.
Now, since I signed the Affordable Care Act into law 10 months ago, Americans already have more power, greater freedom, stronger control of their health care. This law will lower premiums. It is limiting costs. It is reigning in the worst abuses of the insurance industry with some of the toughest consumer protections this country has ever known. This is making a real difference for families across this country as we speak.
Now, it’s no secret that not everyone in Congress agrees with this law. And as I said on Tuesday, I believe that anything can be improved. As we work to implement it, there are going to be times where we say, you know what, this needs a tweak, this isn’t working exactly as intended, exactly the way we want. Here’s a way of doing it smarter, better. We may be able to serve families to lower costs and improve care every more.
And so I’m willing to work with anyone, Republican or Democrat, to make care better or to make their health care more affordable. I’ve even suggested we begin by correcting what was a legitimate concern, a flaw, in the legislation that placed unnecessary bookkeeping burdens on small businesses. I’m open to other ideas, including patient safety innovations and medical malpractice reform.
But here’s what I’m not open to, and I said this on Tuesday. I am not willing to just refight the battles of the last two years. I’m not open to efforts that will take this law apart without considering the lives and the livelihoods that hang in the balance….
Now, as important as what is happening right now is what isn’t happening right now. You may have heard once or twice that this is a job-crushing, granny-threatening, budget-busting monstrosity. That’s about how it’s been portrayed by opponents. And that just doesn’t match up to the reality. I mean this thing has been in place now for 10 months, all right?
So let’s look at what’s happened over the last 10 months. Not only has the economy grown and added jobs since the Affordable Care Act became law, but small businesses across the country have already chosen to offer health care to hundreds of thousands of their employees, many for the first time. That’s something that regardless of politics, we should all celebrate.
Estimates from the Business Roundtable — now this isn’t some left-wing organization — the Business Roundtable, the organization of all the country’s largest corporations, and other experts indicate that health insurance reform could save large employers anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000 per family, per year, that they cover in health care costs by 2019. And that’s money that businesses can use to grow and invest and to hire. That’s money that workers won’t have to see vanish from their paychecks or bonuses in the form of higher deductibles or bigger co-payments. That’s good for all of us.
And I can report that granny is safe. In fact, grandma’s Medicare is stronger than ever. And if she was one of the millions of seniors who fell into the doughnut hole last year, she received a $250 check, or soon will, to help her afford her medications, and a new 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs, as part of the Affordable Care Act. (Applause.)
Finally, because it is absolutely true that we’ve got to get a handle on our deficits, that the debt we are carrying right now is unsustainable if we don’t start taking action, it is important for us to be clear about the truth when it comes to health care reform.
Health reform is part of deficit reform. We know that health care costs, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid, are the biggest contributors to our long-term deficit. Nobody disputes this. And this law will slow these costs. That’s part of the reason why nonpartisan economists, why the Congressional Budget Office, have said that repealing this law would add a quarter of a trillion dollars to our deficit over the next decade, and another trillion dollars to our deficit in the decade after that. They’re not just making this up. And what’s more, repeal would send middle-class premiums up, would force large employers to pay that extra $2,000-$3,000 per worker, and shift control of your health care right back to the insurance companies.
Now, I’ve repeatedly said, I believe that our system of private insurance is strong and viable, and we need it to be. It saves lives. It employs large numbers of Americans. And by the way, it’s still making pretty good profits. But just as we are a people who believe in the power of the individual, the promise of the free market, we are also a people who believe, from the time of our founding, that we aspire to protect one another from harm and exploitation.
Our task has always been to seek the right balance between the dynamism of the marketplace, but also to make sure that it’s serving people. And sometimes that means removing barriers to growth by lifting rules that place unnecessary burdens on business, but other times it means enacting common-sense safeguards like these — like the Affordable Care Act — to ensure our American belief that hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by a sense of security and fair play.
That’s at the heart of this reform. That’s why we fought so hard for this reform. That’s why we have to keep on telling people across the country about the potential of this reform and what it means for them and their families. And that’s why we’re not going to fall back.
I don’t want to tell students that we’re booting them off their parents’ coverage. I don’t want to tell seniors that their medicine is out of reach again. I don’t want to tell Janine her taxes are going back up, or Gail that she’s got to choose between keeping her home and getting well. I don’t want to tell Dawn, or any other mother, that their child can’t get the care that he or she needs after all.
I don’t want that for America. I don’t want that for our families. That’s not who we are and that’s not what we stand for. We don’t believe that people should have to hope against hope that they’ll stay healthy, or hang all their fortunes on chance. We don’t believe, in a country like ours, that one in 10, one in eight of our citizens should be that vulnerable no matter how hard they’re working. We believe in something better.
So the time for fighting the battles of the last two years has now passed. It’s time to move forward. And these efforts -– strengthening our families, getting our fiscal house in order, allowing small businesses to grow, allowing entrepreneurs to strike out on their own free from crushing costs –- they’re critical to our economic success. And by reforming our health care system so it doesn’t dictate anybody’s economic fate, America can decide its own.