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Weekly remarks: Obama and Republicans warn each other about healthcare summit next week

February 20, 2010 |  3:00 am

Obama White House Snow

Weekly remarks by President Obama, as provided by the White House

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.   

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Remarks by Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.),
as provided by the House Republican leader's office

Hello, I’m Congressman Dave Camp from Michigan, and I serve as the lead Republican on the House Ways & Means Committee.

This is a time of economic uncertainty. Tens of millions of Americans are either looking for work or have just given up entirely. They’re looking to Washington for solutions. But instead it seems Washington keeps adding to their problems.  

That’s why Americans are demanding that President Obama and the Democrats in control of Congress scrap their misguided plan of a government takeover of health care. They don’t want a 2,000-page bill that threatens jobs and drives up health premiums; they already have enough challenges to deal with in their daily lives. 

They want Washington to start over with a step-by-step approach to health care reform that begins with reducing costs and ensures they can keep their current plan if they like it. 

For those families and small businesses looking for a sign that Washington is ready to wake up and find common sense on this issue, next week’s White House health care summit may not be it.

In fact, right now, Democrats are continuing to work behind closed doors, putting the finishing touches on yet another massive health care bill Americans can’t afford and don’t want.

Republican Representative Dave Camp of Michigan

If it is like Democrats’ other health care bills, this one will drive up premiums, destroy jobs, raise taxes, slash Medicare benefits, and add to our already-skyrocketing debt.  

But this won’t be just another bill written in secret and signed off on by special interests. Democrats have admitted they are working on an undemocratic plan to jam this bill through Congress and subvert the will of the American people. 

Democrats themselves are describing this latest maneuver as a ‘trick.’ If the starting point for this summit is more of the same backroom deals and partisan bills, then this meeting will likely be a charade.

From the beginning, Republicans have listened to the American people and offered reforms that lower health care premiums for families and small businesses.
 
The bill I and House Republicans proposed last fall implements common sense solutions focused on lowering costs. Our bill ensures nobody will be denied coverage on the basis of a pre-existing condition.

It gives states the tools to implement their own innovative reforms. And we put an end to the junk lawsuits that are forcing doctors to practice defensive medicine and drive up the cost of health insurance for all Americans.
 
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projects that the Republican health care bill would actually lower health insurance premiums across the board by up to 10 percent – about $2,000 per year. The Democrat bills do just the opposite – they increase the cost of health care.
 
Just as important, Republicans get the job done without cutting Medicare, without raising taxes, and without piling more debt on our kids and grandkids. All the details of our plan are available at healthcare.gop.gov.
Republicans remain ready to discuss these ideas with President Obama and move forward in a bipartisan way to lower health care costs.  

But Americans' health care is way too important to risk on a rushed backroom deal that puts federal bureaucrats in charge of your personal health care decisions. 
 
Instead of hurting small businesses by forcing them to pay new taxes and meet new regulations, our focus should be on lowering their health care costs so that they can expand and hire more workers. 

So in order to have a productive bipartisan conversation on health care, Democrats must first listen to the American people and scrap their massive government takeover of health care. We must go into the summit with a clean slate focused on making healthcare affordable.

That is what Americans are asking for, and that is what Republicans will continue to work for. Thanks for listening.   




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Photos: Pete Souza / White House; Associated Press; Office of Rep. Camp.

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