Fixing the Economy Means Fixing Health Care

Obama today on health care reform (emphases mine):

QUESTION: Welcome to southwest Florida. In light of the fact that you’ve inherited an economic crisis, where does your priority lie with health care reform?

OBAMA: Well, it’s a great question.

And I think it is — there are some people who are making the argument that, well, you can’t do anything about health care because the economy comes first. They don’t understand that health care is the biggest component of our economy and, when it’s broken, that affects everything.

I mean, we’ve got a system right now where the average person has seen — even if they’ve got health insurance, the average family has seen their premiums double over the last eight years. Folks are paying twice as much. Co-payments have gotten higher; deductibles have gotten higher. And now, with people losing their jobs, they’re also losing their health care.

Businesses are also less competitive because of the fact that, here in the United States, we spend more than anybody else does. Any other nation on Earth per capita we spend more on health care, but we don’t get better results, and companies are paying for that.

So when they’re competing against — you know, if a U.S. carmaker is competing against a foreign carmaker, they’ve got all these extra health care costs that they’ve got to deal with.

And, finally, Medicare and Medicare — or Medicare and Medicaid are draining state budgets and federal budgets in a way that’s unsustainable over the long term. So health care has to be part of the solution.

Now, in the recovery package, there are a couple of things that we do immediately. Number one, we’re providing some help to Governor Crist and the state, because now they are getting more Medicaid claims and we’ve got to make sure that they can just meet the basic needs of citizens here in Florida.

Number two is, what we have in this bill is a mechanism so that we will subsidize people to keep their health care even if they lose their job. How many people here know what COBRA is?

All right, now, COBRA is the law that says that, if you lose your job, you can keep your health care and you go through COBRA. Here’s the only problem: If you’ve lost your job, who can afford $1,000 a month or $1,200 a month for health care? You can’t afford it.

(APPLAUSE) So part of this plan says we will subsidize a significant portion of what your health insurance costs so that you can actually afford to keep your health care. That’s number two.

Number three — and this is an example of using a crisis and converting it into an opportunity. One of the problems with our health care system, it is so inefficient, you go into the hospital, and what’s the first thing you’ve got to do? You’ve got to — even if you’ve got insurance, what do you have to do? You’ve got to fill out so many forms, and there’s paperwork, and there’s this, there’s that.

Then you go and you get your examination, and they’ve got a clipboard with all this paper on it. And then the doctor’s writing out something and the nurse can’t read it.

And, you know, the fact is, is that it causes huge amounts of medical errors. We’ve got all this bureaucracy. One of the simplest, most effective things that we could do is to convert from a paper system to an electronic data system.

Now, think about it. Health care’s the only area where we still use paper. I mean, the banks, that’s all computerized. So if you’ve got a credit card, that’s all on a computer so they can find you any time you don’t make a payment, and that computer’s calculating every dime of interest you’ve got to pay and — right? It’s all very efficient.

But when it comes to health care, it’s a disaster. So what we did is — in this plan, in the House bill that — that passed, one of the things that we do is we say we are going to computerize our health care system, institute health I.T. That creates jobs right now for people to convert from a paper system to a computer system, but it also pays a long-term dividend by making the health care system more efficient.

So, now, those are things that we’re doing immediately. We are also then — got to deal with the long-term problem of both cost and coverage. You’ve got over 45 million people who don’t have health insurance and people who do have health insurance are seeing their costs rise too fast.

OBAMA: And so, in addition to — to computerizing the health care system, we’ve got to emphasize prevention. We’ve got to make sure that people have regular checkups.

We made a down payment on it this week — and I did it, by the way, with the help of a lot of these members of Congress — by passing a new SCHIP — that’s the children’s health insurance bill — that provides millions of children, who didn’t have health insurance, health insurance.


My hope is, over the course of the year, I’m going to be able to work with Congress to move forward a bill that gets us on track to every single person in America being able to get affordable, decent health care coverage.

We are a wealthy enough country to do it, and that’s going to be one of my top priorities as president of the United States.

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