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Weekly remarks: Obama and ex-Democrat Dr. Parker Griffith debate healthcare

March 6, 2010 |  3:00 am

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Remarks by President Obama, as provided by the White House

This week, I asked Congress to schedule a final vote on reform that will give families and businesses more control over their healthcare by holding insurance companies more accountable.  This comes after nearly a year of debate, as well as a seven-hour summit with Democrats and Republicans where we had a public and substantive discussion on healthcare.  Since then, I’ve said that I’m willing to incorporate some ideas offered by Republicans, and we’re eliminating special provisions that had no place in healthcare reform.

Now, despite all the progress and improvements we’ve made, Republicans in Congress insist that the only acceptable course on healthcare is to start over. But you know what?  The insurance companies aren’t starting over. I just met with some of them on Thursday and they couldn’t give me a straight answer as to why they keep arbitrarily and massively raising premiums – by as much as 60% in states like Illinois. If we do not act, they will continue to do this. They will continue to drop people’s coverage when they need it. They will continue to refuse coverage based on pre-existing conditions. These practices will continue. 

That’s why we must act now.  That’s why the United States Congress owes the American people an up-or-down vote on health insurance reform. 

The proposal we’ve put forward would end the worst practices of the insurance industry, lower costs for....

...millions of Americans, and give uninsured individuals and small businesses the same kind of choice of private health insurance that members of Congress get for themselves.  And while it will take a few years to fully implement these reforms, there are numerous protections and benefits that would start to take effect this year. 

This year, small business owners will receive tax credits to purchase health insurance. This year, thousands of uninsured Americans with pre-existing conditions will finally be able to purchase coverage. Insurance companies will no longer be allowed to deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions. And they will no longer be allowed to drop your coverage when you get sick. 
  
This year, all new insurance plans will be required to offer free preventive care to their customers – so that we can start catching preventable illnesses and diseases on the front end. There will no longer be lifetime limits or restrictive annual limits on the amount of care you receive. Young adults will be able to stay on their parents’ insurance policy until they’re 26 years old. And there will be a new, independent appeals process for anyone who feels they were unfairly denied a claim by their insurance company. 

Finally, seniors who fall into the gap in coverage known as the donut hole will receive $250 to help them pay for their prescriptions. What won’t change when this bill is signed is this:  if you like the insurance plan you have now, you can keep it. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. Because nothing should get in the way of the relationship between a family and their doctor.  

If we act now, all of this will happen this year. Millions of lives will improve. Some will be saved.  Many families and small business owners will have health insurance for the very first time in their lives. Doctors and patients will have more control over their healthcare decisions, and insurance company bureaucrats will have less.  This future is within our grasp.  

But we also know what the future will look like if we don’t act – if we let this opportunity pass for another year, or another decade, or another generation.  More Americans will lose their family’s health insurance if they switch jobs or lose their job. More small businesses will be forced to choose between healthcare and hiring.  More insurance companies will raise premiums and deny coverage. And the rising cost of Medicare and Medicaid will sink our government deeper and deeper into debt.

I don’t accept that future for the United States of America. I know it has been a long and hard road to this point. And we are not finished with our journey just yet. But we are close. We are very close. And so I ask Congress to finish its work. I ask them to give the American people an up or down vote. And let’s show our citizens that it’s still possible for Washington to look out for their interests and their future. Thanks for listening.    ###

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Weekly remarks by Republican Rep. Dr. Parker Griffith as provided by the Republican National Committee

Hello, I’m Dr. Parker Griffith, and I have the great privilege to represent Alabama’s 5th Congressional District. In the next 10 days, Democrats in Washington will try and jam through a massive government takeover of healthcare. It would raise taxes, slash Medicare benefits and destroy American jobs. 

It would put federal bureaucrats in charge of medical decisions that should be made by patients and doctors.  And it must be stopped.

The American people have said loudly and clearly that they do not want this job-killing government takeover of care. They want us to start over with a clean sheet of paper and a step-by-step approach focused on lowering costs for families and small businesses.

But President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refuse to listen to the American people.  For them, healthcare reform has become less about the best reforms and more about what best fits their ‘Washington knows best’ mentality – less about helping patients and more about scoring political points.

This is no idle observation. I’ve witnessed it firsthand.

You see, two Januarys ago, I was sworn into office as an independent, conservative Democrat. But like so many Americans, I became increasingly concerned that the policies being pushed by Democrats in Washington were dangerous for our country and out of step with our values.
Alabama Republican Representative Dr. Parker Griffith
Instead of working across the aisle and focusing on creating jobs, Democratic leaders pressed ahead with their partisan, big-government agenda of taxing, spending, and borrowing from our children and grandchildren. The trillion-dollar ‘stimulus,’ the ‘cap-and-trade’ national energy tax, I voted against them.

Still, even as Democrats lost their way, I held out hope that things would be different with healthcare reform, but I was wrong.

Even as public opposition continued to rise, Democrats refused to let up, stuffing these bills with sweetheart deals for lawmakers and giveaways to Washington special interests.  

Given all that’s at stake, I realized that being a voice of dissent and a vote of conscience was not enough.  Shortly before Christmas, after much thought and prayer, I decided to align myself with House Republicans, who have stood on principle to fight this big-government agenda and offer better solutions to the challenges facing our country.

Republicans understand that the right way to fix healthcare is with a step-by-step approach focused on lowering costs.  Only Republicans have proposed the kind of healthcare reforms we can afford during this economic downturn, like allowing small businesses to group together to purchase healthcare plans at reasonable costs just as unions do.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has confirmed that the Republican bill would lower premiums for families and small businesses by up to 10%.  All of the details are available at HealthCare.GOP.gov.

You know, before coming to Congress, I spent 30 years practicing medicine in North Alabama.  The worst thing we could do is have the federal government decide what policies and what procedures would be done in hospitals or in physicians’ offices, what would be paid for, what would not be paid for.  This will only cause premiums to rise and the quality of care to go down.  

I’ve also run a small business, and I can tell you that healthcare costs have everything to do with the ability to maintain a payroll and hire new workers.  The mere threat of this healthcare bill being enacted is freezing employers in their tracks and destroying much-needed jobs.  

To get a final bill through without public or bipartisan support, Democrats would have to use a toxic, controversial legislative scheme known as ‘reconciliation.’  Reconciliation would allow Democrats to make a few last-minute backroom deals and rely on only Democratic votes.  

Reconciliation is by no means a cure-all that would permit drastic changes to improve the bill. For instance, reconciliation would not address the loophole in the Senate-passed healthcare bill that would lead to taxpayer funding of abortion for the first time in more than 30 years. 

If Speaker Pelosi has her way, the loophole will become law as is, so the final battle will be here in the House of Representatives.    ###

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Photos: Pete Souza / White House; Cliff Owen / Associated Press; Dr. Griffith's office

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