Washington, D.C. - Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered opening remarks at Blair House this morning during the bipartisan meeting on health insurance reform hosted by President Obama. Below are the Speaker's opening remarks:
On Urgent Need for Health Insurance Reform:
“As we sit around this table, I think we should be mindful of what they do when they sit around their kitchen table. What we do here must be relevant to their lives. And for them, they don't have time for us to start over. Many of them are at the end of the line with their insurance…I just hope that as we sit around this table, we understand the urgency that the American people have about this issue, how it affects not only their health, but their economic security.”
“Yes, Mr. President. Thank you very much for bringing us here today. I will try to stick to the time because we have many people to hear from. Thank you, Mr. President, again. It was almost a year ago, March 5th of last year, when you brought us together in a bipartisan way to set us on a path to lower costs, improved quality, expand access to quality health care for all Americans. In the course of that time in our committees in the House and the Senate, we've had lively discussions. Here we are today.
“You began your remarks, Mr. President, by saying there was glimmer of bipartisanship in the Senate with the passage of the jobs bill. I want you to know there was a blaze of bipartisanship in the House yesterday with what -- 406 to 19 -- we passed under the leadership of Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, Tom Perriello, Betsy Markey and others -- the lifting, repealing of the exemption that insurance companies have on health insurance and the antitrust laws for health insurance. 406 to 19, a very strong message that, yes, the insurance companies need to be reined in. So put us down on that side of the ledger.
“That day, March 5th, we all remember the bipartisan spirit, the hope that was in the room, and also, when Senator Kennedy came into the room and declared himself a ‘foot soldier' in the fight for health care for all Americans. And then later he wrote to you and said: ‘This is not just about the details of policy. It is about the character of our country.' The character of our country has formed the backbone of our country, our working middle-class families in America.
“As we sit around this table, I think we should be mindful of what they do when they sit around their kitchen table. What we do here must be relevant to their lives. And for them, they don't have time for us to start over. Many of them are at the end of the line with their insurance, with their caps, with their this and that.
“You talked about stories -- Senator Alexander did too -- I can tell you many stories as I travel the country where I've seen grown men cry. One man in Michigan told me that his wife had been sick for a long time, he was at the end of the line in terms of his finances, he might have to lose his home and she was bedridden. He was afraid of what was going to happen. He was too proud to tell his children that he needed help because they were raising their own families. He said: ‘When is something going to happen on health care in America? I can't hold out much longer.'
“I have a letter from -- Michigan seems to be where I get some mail on this subject since I've traveled there recently -- about a woman who said that their family -- when they have to pay their deductible, they have to subtract it from their food budget. And that is just one of the concerns she mentioned.
“I can't mention health care in Michigan without acknowledging Chairman Dingell. His institutional memory of how difficult it was to pass Medicare. How he has worked over the decades to improve it. How committed he is to preserving it. And how important a part of preserving Medicare is to passing this health care bill. Later, he will inspire us with that. But he, Mr. President, as you know, as a young Congressman gaveled Medicare into law in the House of Representatives.
“You have talked about how the present system is unsustainable -- for families, for businesses, large, moderate, and small -- any size. And it is unsustainable, and you said on March 5 of last year: ‘Health care reform is entitlement reform.' Our budget cannot take this upward spiral of cost. We have a moral obligation to reduce the deficit and not heap mountains of debt onto the next generation.
“But I want to talk for a moment about what it means to the economy. Imagine an economy where people could change jobs, start businesses, become self-employed, pursue their artistic aspirations, or be entrepreneurial and start new businesses if they were not job locked because they have a child who is bipolar or a family member who is diabetic with a pre-existing condition. And all of the other constraints that having health care or not having health care places on an entrepreneurial spirit. Think of an economy with that dynamism -- of people following their pursuits, taking risks -- we want them to take risks and yet we lock them down. And we have an anvil around our businesses because of these increasing costs of health care.
“So this bill is not only about the health security of America, it's about jobs. In its life it will create 4 million jobs, 400,000 jobs almost immediately. Jobs, again, in the health care industry but in the entrepreneurial world as well.
“Mr. President, with your leadership, we passed the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act last January and got a running start on some of the technology and scientific advancements in this by the investments in biomedical research, health IT, health information technology, a running start by your signing the SCHIP, the children's health bill insuring 11 million children. We got a running start on expanding access, and not only that but doing it in a way that is of the future.
“This is not just about health care for America, it's about a healthier America. This legislation is about innovation. It's about prevention. It's about wellness. But most people haven't heard about that, and those people sitting at that kitchen table, they don't want to hear about process. They want to hear about results. They want to know what this means to them. And what it means is a health initiative that is about affordability for the middle class, lowering cost, improving access, accessibility -- affordability and accessibility are closely aligned -- and accountability for the insurance companies. So it is a very important initiative that we have to take.
“And I want to say because Medicare was mentioned unless we pass this legislation, we cannot keep our promises on Medicare. We simply must make the cuts of waste, fraud, and abuse in Medicare so that the benefits and the premiums are untouched. We owe it to our seniors. We owe it to our country. That day, March 5th, Senator Kennedy said: ‘Health care is a right, not a privilege.'
“Let us move in a way -- who can say ‘ram'? We started this six weeks after your inauguration, just six weeks after your inauguration, on March 5th, with you extending a hand of bipartisanship. And many of the provisions that are in our bill are initiatives put forth by the Republicans, others of our colleagues will talk about those. But I just hope that as we sit around this table, we understand the urgency that the American people have about this issue, how it affects not only their health, but their economic security.
“And I thank you, Mr. President for your leadership in getting us to this place.”