During the course of the spring, the White House Health Reform team went on the road to engage every part of the country, traveling to Michigan
, North Carolina
to hear out people’s concerns and get their input on how to lower costs, ensure choice, and provide access to quality coverage for everybody.
Today the President met with Governors Jennifer Granholm (D-MI), Jim Douglas (R-VT), Jim Doyle (D-WI), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Christine Gregoire (D-WA), all of whom helped co-host forums in their regions. Speaking to the press afterwards
, he explained why he wanted to revisit that profoundly enlightening tour as Health Care Reform heads into yet another pivotal period in Congress:
THE PRESIDENT: …And so they've reported back to me. There's no perfect unanimity across the table in terms of every single aspect of reform. I think everybody here wants to make sure that governors have flexibility, that they have input into how legislation is being shaped on the Hill. But they have done my administration and I think the American people a terrific service in bringing some of these individual stories to us. And we're committed to working with them in the weeks and months to come to make sure that when we get health reform done, it is in partnership with the states where the rubber so often hits the road.
And one of the advantages they have, as Joe Biden put it, they've planted a mole inside our administration. (Laughter.) Kathleen Sebelius, very recently a governor, knows exactly what all of them are struggling with, and she and Nancy-Ann are going to be interacting with them on a regular basis as we move this agenda forward.
So I want to thank them publicly. And I look forward to working with them to get this done for the American people and for the people of their respective states in the weeks to come.
Q Is there any give in your deadline, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: We need to get it done.
Q This year?
THE PRESIDENT: We need to get it done this year.
Those forums were also led by working people in their respective regions who could give a snapshot of the problems people were facing there. Joyce Shilakes took that role in the Michigan forum. As the wife of a General Motors employee who knows his future is uncertain, and whose own health care coverage is uncertain as a result, one of her central motivations for supporting comprehensive reform is as fundamental as it is ubiquitous in America: the desire for peace of mind.
It is worth reading the remarks she gave in Michigan back in the spring as a reminder of what the fight here is really about:
Hello. As you have heard, my name is Joyce Shilakes and I am very honored to be here with you today and to be asked to share my personal experiences that lead me to form a health care discussion group with my family and colleagues last December.
As a clinical social worker, every day I work with individuals who are struggling with mental and physical illness. One of the most frustrating and disheartening aspects of my job is watching my clients struggle to pay for treatments and medications that would stabilize their illness and help them to maintain productive lives. All too often, they are forced to choose between buying the expensive medications they need or paying for the basic needs of survival such as food, shelter and gas for themselves and their families.
This is a choice that no person should have to make. I have watched as they place their healthcare on hold only to have their symptoms worsen, their lives placed at risk, their jobs and families suffer – all because they have no insurance or were unable to afford the co-pays.
But my desire for a changed health care policy does not arise from my professional experiences alone. On a personal basis, my husband and I live with the very real threat of falling into the ranks of the uninsured if my husband’s job with General Motors were to be eliminated. This is especially anxiety provoking considering the fact that we are both Cancer survivors and under the current system we would be unlikely to find affordable medical coverage.
While I'm sure you can imagine, Cancer is a difficult disease to face under the best of circumstances. Facing it without insurance would be a horrendous burden. My breast cancer treatment alone ran over $100,000 eight years ago. Someone without insurance and faced with this disease today would likely be forced to choose between a chance at life bought by bankrupting themselves and their family, or choosing to die.
But speaking to a much larger issue, as someone who lives in the Detroit area and whose community, life and livelihood and benefited by the success of the Big 3, I have watched as our struggling automakers lose ground to foreign manufacturers who are not faced with the same health care responsibilities. The health care issue is now beginning to undermine the very fabric of our nation as our automaker and large businesses employing thousands are forced to close their doors and lay off employees, in part due to the lack of sustainable health system.
These are some of the reasons that I, and my colleagues, jumped at the chance to become involved in last December’s health care discussion. For the first time, we felt that we had a president who was receptive and encouraging of input from all Americans. We wanted to lend our voices to the chorus of others who have been clamoring for change. Today, I must admit to having more than a glimmer of hope that we can work together to bring about a comprehensive American system of health care that will provide high quality health services for all citizens of our nation. I look forward to participating with you in that endeavor.