Obama's Town Hall: Full Transcript
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Portsmouth! Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Everybody have a seat. Oh, thank you so --
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you!
THE PRESIDENT: I love you back. Thank you. (Laughter.) It is great to be back in Portsmouth. (Applause.) It's great to be back in New Hampshire. I have to say, though, that most of my memories of this state are cold. (Laughter.) So it's good to be here in August.
There are a couple of people that I want to acknowledge who are here today, some special guests. First of all, I want to thank principal Jeffrey Collins, and the Portsmouth students and faculty and staff. (Applause.) Thank you -- our host for today. Your own outstanding governor, John Lynch is here. (Applause.) And his wonderful wife, Dr. Susan Lynch is here, the First Lady of New Hampshire. (Applause.) Your United States senator, doing a great job, Jeanne Shaheen is here. (Applause.) The governor of the great state of Maine, and we are glad he's here in New Hampshire today, John Baldacci is here. (Applause.)
Two of my favorite people, they are just taking Congress by storm, outstanding work -- Paul Hodes, Carol Shea-Porter -- give them a big round of applause. (Applause.) And we've got your own mayor, Tom Ferrini is here. Where's Tom? There he is. (Applause.)
Now, I want to thank more than anybody, Lori, for that introduction, and for sharing her story with the rest of us. (Applause.) Thank you, Lori. Lori's story is the same kind of story that I've read in letters, that I've heard in town hall meetings just like this one for the past five years. In fact, some of you were in that town hall -- those town hall meetings, as I was traveling all throughout New Hampshire. It's the story of hardworking Americans who are held hostage by health insurance companies that deny them coverage, or drop their coverage, or charge fees that they can't afford for care that they desperately need.
I believe it is wrong. It is bankrupting families and businesses, and that's why we are going to pass health insurance reform in 2009. (Applause.)
Now, this is obviously a tough time for families here in New Hampshire and all across America. Six months ago, we were in the middle of the worst recession of our lifetimes. I want you to remember what things were like in January and February. We were losing about 700,000 jobs per month. And economists of all stripes feared a second-coming of the Great Depression. That was only six months ago.
That's why we acted as fast as we could to pass a Recovery Act that would stop the freefall. And I want to make sure everybody understands what we did. One-third of the money in the Recovery Act went to tax cuts that have already started showing up in the paychecks of about 500,000 working families in New Hampshire -- (applause) -- 500,000 families in New Hampshire. We also cut taxes for small businesses on the investments that they make, and over 300 New Hampshire small businesses have qualified for new loans backed by the Recovery Act.
Now, that was a third -- that was a third of the Recovery Act. Another third of the money in the Recovery Act is for emergency relief for folks who've borne the brunt of this recession. So we've extended unemployment benefits for 20,000 New Hampshire residents. (Applause.) We've made health insurance 65 percent cheaper for families who rely on COBRA while they're looking for work. (Applause.) And for states that were facing historic budget shortfalls, we provided assistance that has saved the jobs of tens of thousands of workers who provided essential services -- like teachers and police officers. (Applause.) So it's prevented a lot of painful cuts in the state, but also a lot of painful state and local tax increases.
Now, the last third of the Recovery Act is for investments that are already putting people back to work. These are jobs refurbishing bridges and pavement on I-95; or jobs at the community health centers here in Portsmouth that will be able to add nurses, and extend hours, and serve up to 500 new patients. These are good jobs doing the work America needs done. And, by the way, most of the work is being done by private, local businesses, because that's how we're going to grow this economy again.
So there is no doubt that the Recovery Act has helped put the brakes on this recession. We just saw last Friday the job picture is beginning to turn. We're starting to see signs that business investment is coming back.
But, New Hampshire, that doesn't mean we're out of the woods, and you know that. It doesn't mean we can just sit back and do nothing while so many families are still struggling, because even before this recession hit we had an economy that was working pretty well for the wealthiest Americans, it was working pretty well for Wall Street bankers, it was working pretty well for big corporations, but it wasn't working so well for everybody else. It was an economy of bubbles and busts. And we can't go back to that kind of economy.
If we want this country to succeed in the 21st century -- and if we want our children to succeed in the 21st century -- then we're going to have to take the steps necessary to lay a new foundation for economic growth. We need to build an economy that works for everybody, and not just some people. (Applause.)
Now, health insurance reform is one of those pillars that we need to build up that new foundation. I don't have to explain to you that nearly 46 million Americans don't have health insurance coverage today. In the wealthiest nation on Earth, 46 million of our fellow citizens have no coverage. They are just vulnerable. If something happens, they go bankrupt, or they don't get the care they need.
But it's just as important that we accomplish health insurance reform for the Americans who do have health insurance
-- (applause) -- because right now we have a health care system that too often works better for the insurance industry than it does for the American people. And we've got to change that. (Applause.)
Now, let me just start by setting the record straight on a few things I've been hearing out here -- (laughter) -- about reform. Under the reform we're proposing, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.
You will not be waiting in any lines. This is not about putting the government in charge of your health insurance. I don't believe anyone should be in charge of your health insurance decisions but you and your doctor. (Applause.) I don't think government bureaucrats should be meddling, but I also don't think insurance company bureaucrats should be meddling. That's the health care system I believe in. (Applause.)
Now, we just heard from Lori about how she can't find an insurance company that will cover her because of her medical condition. She's not alone. A recent report actually shows that in the past three years, over 12 million Americans were discriminated against by insurance companies because of a preexisting condition. Either the insurance company refused to cover the person, or they dropped their coverage when they got sick and they needed it most, or they refused to cover a specific illness or condition, or they charged higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs. No one holds these companies accountable for these practices.
And I have to say, this is personal for Lori but it's also personal for me. I talked about this when I was campaigning up here in New Hampshire. I will never forget my own mother, as she fought cancer in her final months, having to worry about whether her insurance would refuse to pay for her treatment. And by the way, this was because the insurance company was arguing that somehow she should have known that she had cancer when she took her new job -- even though it hadn't been diagnosed yet. So if it could happen to her, it could happen to any one of us.
And I've heard from so many Americans who have the same worries. One woman testified that an insurance company would not cover her internal organs because of an accident she had when she was five years old. Think about that -- that covers a lot of stuff. (Laughter.) They're only going to cover your skin. (Laughter.) Dermatology, that's covered; nothing else. (Laughter.)
Another lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because the insurance company discovered he had gall stones that he hadn't known about when he applied for insurance. Now, that is wrong, and that will change when we pass health care reform. That is going to be a priority. (Applause.)