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"I'm Here Because of Natoma"

Speaking up for health reform in Ohio, the President tells the tragic, inspiring, and all-too-common story of one woman who wrote him a letter.
This afternoon the President was in Ohio as the year-long battle to finally reform America's health insurance system draws towards a close – and he took the opportunity to remind everybody why he has fought so hard for so long against such powerful interests.  He was introduced by Connie Anderson, the sister of Natoma Canfield – a woman whose awful but all-too-common struggles have served as a brutal symbol of what is wrong with our system for millions of others. 

It began with a letter – the type of letter millions of Americans have written to their presidents since the founding of this country.  But this letter, which she likely never expected anybody even close to the President to see, ended up in his hands.  It told of her story having battled off cancer sixteen years ago, and having battled with her insurance company ever since -- see the scanned images below or read the text of the letters here.

Letter from Natoma Canfield to the President

The President replied to her letter, but that was only the beginning:

Letter from the President to Natoma Canfield

When the President and HHS Secretary Sebelius met with insurance company executives recently asking them to justify their alarming rate increases across the country in recent months, he read her letter to them to make clear that this was not about politics, or lobbying, or grandstanding – this was about countless stories of working Americans being crushed under their health care costs, even when they play by the rules and pay their dues to insurance companies for what is supposed to be peace of mind.

Last week, though, Natoma collapsed.  She was taken to an emergency room, and has since been diagnosed with Leukemia.  Natoma and her family are struggling to determine how they will afford Natoma’s medical treatment now that she no longer has insurance, which she dropped in January 2010 because of rate hikes that simply made insurance unaffordable.

After being introduced by Natoma’s sister, the President recounted her story – and leaned into the microphone as he told the crowd what he has been trying to do for the past year:

THE PRESIDENT: So you want to know why I’m here, Ohio?  I’m here because of Natoma.  (Applause.)   I’m here because of the countless others who have been forced to face the most terrifying challenges in their lives with the added burden of medical bills they can’t pay.  I don't think that’s right.  (Applause.)   Neither do you.  That’s why we need health insurance right now.  Health insurance reform right now.  (Applause.)

AUDIENCE:  Obama!  Obama!  Obama!  Obama!

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m here because of my own mother’s story.  She died of cancer, and in the last six months of her life, she was on the phone in her hospital room arguing with insurance companies instead of focusing on getting well and spending time with her family.

I’m here because of the millions who are denied coverage because of preexisting conditions or dropped from coverage when they get sick.  (Applause.)

I’m here because of the small businesses who are forced to choose between health care and hiring.  (Applause.)

I’m here because of the seniors unable to afford the prescriptions that they need.  (Applause.)

I’m here because of the folks seeing their premiums go up 20 and 30 and 40 and 50 and 60 percent in a year.  (Applause.)
Ohio, I am here because that is not the America I believe in and that’s not the America that you believe in.

     AUDIENCE MEMBER:  What’s your plan?

     THE PRESIDENT:  So when you hear people say “start over” --

     AUDIENCE:  No!!

THE PRESIDENT:  -- I want you to think about Natoma.  When you hear people saying that this isn’t the “right time,” you think about what she’s going through.  When you hear people talk about, well, what does this mean for the Democrats?  What does this mean for the Republicans?  I don’t know how the polls are doing.  When you hear people more worried about the politics of it than what’s right and what’s wrong, I want you to think about Natoma and the millions of people all across this country who are looking for some help, and looking for some relief.  That’s why we need health insurance reform right now.  (Applause.) 

Connie Anderson Introduces the President in Strongsville, Ohio

President Barack Obama is introduced by Connie Anderson, at the Walter F. Ehrnfelt Recreation and Senior Center in Strongsville, Ohio. Anderson is the sister of cancer patient Natoma Canfield, who wrote the President saying she gave up her health insurance after the premium rose to where she could no longer afford it March 15, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)