Delivered by Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, a candidate for the 2008 Democratic nomination for the presidency.
THE TIME HAS COME FOR UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Families USA Conference, Washington, DC
Thank you Ron Pollack and thank you Families USA for inviting me to speak here this morning.
On this January morning of two thousand and seven, more than sixty years after President Truman first issued the call for national health insurance, we find ourselves in the midst of an historic moment on health care.
From Maine to California, from business to labor, from Democrats to Republicans, the emergence of new and bold proposals from across the spectrum has effectively ended the debate over whether or not we should have universal health care in this country.
Plans that tinker and halfway measures now belong to yesterday. The President's latest proposal he announced this week has some elements that are interesting, but it basically does little to bring down cost or guarantee coverage.
There will be many others offered in the coming campaign, and I am working with experts to develop my own plan as we speak, but let's make one thing clear right here, right now:
Universal Health Care within Six Years
In the 2008 presidential campaign and Congressional campaigns all across the country, affordable, universal health care for every single American must not be a question of whether. It must be a question of how.
We have the ideas. We have the resources. Now we have to find the will to pass a plan by the end of the next president's first term.
Let me repeat that: I am absolutely determined that, by the end of the first term of the next president, we should have universal health care in this country. There's no reason why we can't accomplish that
I know there's a cynicism out there about whether this can happen, and there's reason for it. Every four years, health care plans are offered up in campaigns with great fanfare and promise.
I'm sure that this campaign season will be no exception. People evaluate them for a day, and then they move on to find out who made the latest blooper or gaffe on the campaign trail. And by the time a president is sworn in, the interest groups and the partisans have torn down whatever ideas have been offered... and we're back to business as usual.
But once those campaigns end, the plans collapse under the weight of Washington politics, leaving the rest of America to struggle with skyrocketing costs.
For too long, this debate has been stunted by what I call the smallness of our politics - the idea that there isn't much we can agree on or do about the major challenges facing our country.
And when some try to propose something bold, the interests groups and the partisans treat it like a sporting event, with each side keeping score of who's up and who's down, using fear and divisiveness and other cheap tricks to win their argument, even if we lose our solution in the process.
No More Health Care Charades in 2008
Well we can't afford another disappointing charade in 2008 and 2009 and 2010. It's not only tiresome, it's wrong.
Wrong when businesses have to layoff one employee because they can't afford the health care of another.
Wrong when a parent cannot take a sick child to the doctor because they cannot afford the bill that comes with it.
Wrong when 46 million Americans have no health care at all. In a country that spends more on health care than any other nation on Earth, it's just wrong.
And we can do something about it.
Morally Offensive, Economically Untenable
In recent years, what's caught the attention of those who haven't always been in favor of reform is the realization that this crisis isn't just morally offensive, it's economically untenable.
For years, the can't-do crowd has scared the American people into believing that universal health care would mean socialized medicine, burdensome taxes, rationing - that we should just stay out of the way, let the market do what it will, and tinker at the margins.
You know the statistics. Family premiums are up by nearly 87% over the last five years, growing five times faster than workers' wages. Deductibles are up 50%. Co-payments for care and prescriptions are through the roof.
Nearly 11 million Americans who are already insured spent more than a quarter of their salary on health care last year. And over half of all family bankruptcies today are caused by medical bills.
But they say it's too costly to act.
Almost half of all small businesses no longer offer health care to their workers, and so many others have responded to rising costs by laying off workers or shutting their doors for good. Some of the biggest corporations in America, giants of industry like GM and Ford, are watching foreign competitors based in countries with universal health care run circles around them, with a GM car containing twice as much health care cost as a Japanese car.
But they say it's too risky to act.
They tell us it's too expensive to cover the uninsured, but they don't mention that every time an American without health insurance walks into an emergency room, we pay even more. Our family's premiums are $922 higher because of the cost of care for the uninsured.
We pay $15 billion more in taxes because of the cost of care for the uninsured. And it's trapped us in a vicious cycle. As the uninsured cause premiums to rise, more employers drop coverage. As more employers drop coverage, more people become uninsured, and premiums rise even further.
But the skeptics tell us that reform is too costly, too risky, too impossible for America to achieve. The skeptics must be living somewhere else... because when you see what the health care crisis is doing to our families, to our economy, to our country, you realize that what is too costly is caution.
It's inaction that's too risky. Doing nothing is what's impossible when it comes to health care in America.