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A Health Reform Town Hall in Ohio

The President traveled to Ohio today, where he held a town hall focused on health insurance reform:
Whenever I hear people say that it's happening too soon, I think that's a little odd. We've been talking about health care reform since the days of Harry Truman. (Laughter.) How could it be too soon? I don't think it's too soon for the families who've seen their premiums rise faster than wages year after year. It's not too soon for the businesses forced to drop coverage or shed workers because of mounting health care expenses. It's not too soon for taxpayers asked to close widening deficits that stem from rising health care costs – costs that threaten to leave our children with a mountain of debt.
Reform may be coming too soon for some in Washington, but it's not soon enough for the American people. (Applause.) We can get this done. We don't shirk from a challenge. (Applause.)
Before the town hall, the President visited the renowned Cleveland Clinic with Governor Ted Strickland to talk to doctors and nurses about their thoughts on reform. He then toured the operating room in the clinic’s Heart and Vascular Institute, which is ranked #1 in the nation. The President has said that it is essential we identify the best practices in health care, so that we can replicate them across the country to get better quality at lower costs.
The President then arrived at Shaker Heights High School, where he began his remarks at the town hall by addressing the economy. He reiterated that we must build a new stable foundation for the 21st century. Health insurance reform is an essential pillar in this new foundation because our current system is unsustainable. There are approximately 46 million Americans without insurance, but the President explained that his plan for reform will benefit all Americans, including those with insurance:
If you have health insurance, the reform we're proposing will give you more security. You just heard Rick's story. Reform will keep the government out of your health care decisions, giving you the option to keep your coverage if you're happy with it. So don't let folks say that somehow we're going to be forcing government-run health care. It's just not true. And it will keep the insurance companies out of your health care decisions, too – (applause) – by stopping insurers from cherry-picking who they cover, and holding insurers to a higher standard for what they cover. (Applause.)
You won't have to worry about receiving a surprise bill in the mail, because we'll limit the amount your insurance company can force you to pay out of your own pocket. (Applause.)
You won't have to worry about preexisting conditions, because – (applause) – never again will anyone in America be denied coverage because of a previous illness or injury. (Applause.)
You won't have to worry about losing coverage if you lose or leave your job, because every American who needs insurance will have access to affordable plans through a health insurance exchange – a marketplace where insurance companies will compete to cover you, not to deny you coverage.(Applause.)
And if you run a small business and you're looking to provide insurance for your employees, you'll be able to choose a plan through this exchange, as well. I've heard from small business owners across America trying to do the right thing, but year after year premiums rise higher and choices grow more limited. And that's certainly true right here in Ohio.
(President Barack Obama tries his hand operating a state-of-the-art robotic surgical system while touring the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, Thursday, July 23, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
The President is dedicated to restoring a sense of fiscal responsibility in Washington, which is why his plan will be deficit-neutral. He explained that by simply cutting wasteful spending, we can pay for 2/3 of health reform right there. But it is equally important that we slow the growth of health care costs. The President noted the Cleveland Clinic as an example of a medical center with some of the lowest costs and highest quality care, and explained why it is so imperative to lower costs:
So the fact is, lowering costs is essential for families and businesses here in Ohio and all across the country. Let's take the Ohio example – over the past few years premiums have risen nearly nine times faster than wages. That's something that Rick and his wife understand very well. As we meet today, we're seeing double-digit rate increases on insurance premiums all over America. There are reports of insurers raising rates by 28 percent in California; seeking a 23 percent increase in Connecticut; proposing as much as a 56 percent increase in Michigan. If we don't act, these premium hikes will just be a preview of coming attractions. And that's a future you can't afford. That is a future that America can't afford.
We spend one of every six of our dollars on health care in America, and that's on track to double in the next three decades. The biggest driving force behind our federal deficit is the skyrocketing cost of Medicare and Medicaid. Small businesses struggle to cover workers while competing with large businesses. Large businesses struggle to cover workers while competing in the global economy. And we'll never know the full cost of the dreams put on hold, the entrepreneurial ideas that are allowed to languish, the small businesses never founded – because of the fear of being without insurance, or having to pay for a policy on your own.
So, Ohio, that's why we seek reform. And in pursuit of this reform we've forged a consensus that has never before been reached in the history of this country. Senators and representatives in five committees are working on legislation; three have already produced a bill. Health care providers have agreed to do their part to reduce the rate of growth in health care spending. Hospitals have agreed to bring down costs. The drug companies have agreed to make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors. The American Nurses Association, the American Medical Association, representing millions of nurses and doctors who know our health care system best, they've announced their support for reform. (Applause.)