Read all posts from July 2009

  • The President discusses the state of the economy amidst positive signs from the GDP. Making clear that this is little comfort to those struggling, he notes that we appear to have averted an even worse disaster and offers hope for the time ahead.
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    download .mp3 |download .mp4 (58.5 MB) | read the transcript
     

  • This week, the Environmental Protection Agency’s survey vessel, the BOLD, is surveying the New England coast, from Boston Harbor to the Penobscot Bay in Maine. Two EPA scientists are giving constant updates from the vessel about their experience. Frankly, it looks windy and rainy out there, but coastal monitoring is a long term initiative that goes on rain or shine.
    Map of anticipated coastal monitoring points in New England
    For budding ocean scientists, EPA has put together a great site that catalogs this week long coastal New England survey. So, stay tuned in to their adventures this week aboard the BOLD and cross your fingers for starry skies.
    The EPA's coastal monitoring vessel, the BOLD
    For more information about EPA's BOLD program, visit http://www.epa.gov/bold/.
     

  • During the July 25th Weekly Address, the President discussed a report just out from the Council of Economic Advisers detailing the impact health insurance reform would have on small business. The President also asked small business professionals to read the report and come forward with their questions – and thousands of them did, including 1,500 through the LinkedIn network alone. The following Wednesday CEA Chair Christina Romer sat down for a live video chat to address some of those questions as selected by an informal board of LinkedIn small business members. Watch the video of the chat, which is as instructive now as it was live if you are interested or concerned about how small business will fare in this sweeping change:
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    download .mp4 (315.1 MB)

    See a "word cloud" representation of the comments submitted through LinkedIn below:
    Word Cloud of LinkedIn Comments
    (Image created through http://www.wordle.net/)
     

  • The White House live stream broadcasts all kinds of White House events, from press conferences with the President to concerts in the East Room. As you may have seen, it’s also home to a new, interactive feature—Open for Questions. During what we call "Open for Questions" sessions, which are hosted about once a week, administration officials answer questions from the public in a live, online video chat. To participate in a future session, stay tuned to the White House blog, Facebook page or Twitter feed for announcements, and then head to the White House Live application on Facebook during the event to submit a question.
    By looking at the percentage of people from each state who tuned in, we can see that the popularity of Open for Questions and other White House events varies from state to state with each event. The map below, for example, shows this Wednesday’s Open for Questions session with the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisorswas most popular in the Midwest and Virginia:
    Romer Chat Map
    The President’s primetime press conference in the midst of the H1N1 outbreak, though, was popular in California—home to the first confirmed case of H1N1:
    H1N1 Map
    And when President Obama welcomed Alison Krauss and Union Station, Brad Paisley, and Charley Pride to the White House, the event was most popular in Tennessee, the nation’s country music capital:
    Country Music Map
    Stay tuned to the White House blog to hear about future Open for Questions sessions and other White House events. To participate in future Open for Questions segments, visit the White House Live application on Facebook
     

  • Since the President spoke to us last month about his "community solutions" agenda, a number of people have asked me, "What exactly do community solutions look like?" Well, many of us already have them in our own neighborhoods – innovative answers to our local challenges, creative and results-oriented solutions just waiting to be discovered. This is precisely what I found when I visited EverybodyWins! in Des Moines, Iowa last week.
    Back in 1991, five friends with full-time jobs decided that they wanted to make an impact on the low reading and literacy rates of students in their neighborhood. They began by committing just one hour at lunch a week to reading to kids in the local school. Since then, their group has grown into a national youth literacy and mentoring program for low-income elementary students called EverybodyWins! with over 7,000 volunteers that serve more than 9,000 public school students in 16 states and the District of Columbia. And their lunch hour volunteering – the "Power Lunch" program – has been proven, through rigorous evaluation, to strengthen reading proficiency and overall academic performance, and enhance students’ attitudes toward and motivation to read.
    As I wrote in an op-ed in the Des Moines Register, EverybodyWins! is exactly the type of community solution that President Obama asked me to identify when he called on his Domestic Policy Council to scour the country for the very best, most innovative, most successful programs in our communities. I also discussed great programs in places from San Francisco to Milwaukee, along with our intention to visit every region of the country to see what is working for them. President Obama has asked Congress for $50 million for a new community innovation fund – to be housed at the Corporation for National and Community Service – to identify these promising programs through a competitive grant process and to provide them with the support they need to grow and expand. And he has challenged foundations, philanthropists, and the private sector to partner in these efforts by providing resources, advice, and matching funds so that community solutions can be replicated all across our nation.
    I recently visited the EverybodyWins! Iowa chapter at the Carver Community School in Des Moines. I spent time reading out loud with Sandy and Diane. And I sat down with staff and volunteers to discuss how the Des Moines chapter has gained strength since its inception in 2003.
    EverybodyWins! found an Iowa champion in home state Senator Tom Harkin, an EverybodyWins! volunteer in Washington, DC who understood the value of the program from his personal experience... Senator Harkin helped bring together local schools, non-profits, and businesses to successfully fund and launch the program in 2003, creating a strong foundation on which the program has thrived.
    Tyler Weig, the Executive Director of EverybodyWins! Iowa, cites support from two AmeriCorps volunteers as pivotal to expanding the creativity and reach of the program, doubling the number of students served since 2006. Adam Fanning, one of their AmeriCorps members, has engaged local businesses in innovative ways, including a partnership with a Des Moines taxi company that provides free rides for volunteers. The Carver Community School’s unique relationship with the Boys and Girls Club chapter that is housed within the same facility adds further capacity for serving students during the school year and throughout the summertime and holidays.
    And success has not slowed down EverybodyWins! Iowa’s drive to do even more. Tyler discussed plans for creating a "Power Breakfast" at the Carver Community School, which will be staffed primarily by local senior citizen volunteers.
    EverybodyWins! is one of the countless "hidden gems" across the country that is successfully bringing together people from all sectors to address community challenges with solutions proven to work. Stay tuned for more as we search the country over the coming months for other innovative and successful community solutions.
    And if you know of organizations that are successfully addressing challenges in your community, please tell us about them by emailing communitysolutions@who.eop.gov.
    Melody Barnes and EverybodyWins!
    (Photo credit: Jill Fleming Photography)
    Melody Barnes is Director of the Domestic Policy Council.
     

  • President Barack Obama, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sergeant James Crowley walk from the Oval Office to the Rose Garden
    (President Barack Obama, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sergeant James Crowley walk from the Oval Office to the Rose Garden of the White House, July 30, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
    President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sergeant James Crowley meet in the Rose Garden
    (President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sergeant James Crowley meet in the Rose Garden of the White House, July 30, 2009. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
     

  • As Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy, what happened today was a reminder of how monumental what we do here really is. Valerie Jarrett joined Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, as she signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on behalf of my country. It has been a chaotic day, but I wanted to share their remarks at the signing with all of you as soon as possible:
    Ambassador Rice: Thank you all so much. It’s really a tremendous honor to sign the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on behalf of the United States.
    This Treaty, as you all know, is the first new human rights convention of the 21st century adopted by the United Nations and further advances the human rights of the 650 million people with disabilities worldwide. It urges equal protection and equal benefits under the law for all citizens, it rejects discrimination in all its forms, and calls for the full participation and inclusion in society of all persons with disabilities.
    The United States is very pleased to join the 141 other countries that have signed this Convention in pursuit of a more just world. President Obama will soon submit it to the Senate for its advice and consent.
    So let me offer my congratulations and thanks to all of you who worked so hard to make this day possible.
    We all still have a great deal more to do at home and abroad. As President Obama has noted, people with disabilities far too often lack the choice to live in communities of their own choosing; their unemployment rate is much higher than those without disabilities; they are much more likely to live in poverty; health care is out of reach for far too many; and too many children with disabilities are denied a world-class education around the world. Discrimination against people with disabilities is not simply unjust; it hinders economic development, limits democracy, and erodes societies.
    These challenges will not disappear with the stroke of a pen. Our work is not complete until we have an enduring guarantee of the inherent dignity, worth, and independence of all persons with disabilities worldwide. Let the signing of the Treaty today be an ongoing source of inspiration for us all in our shared struggle to bring old barriers down.
    Thank you, it’s now my great pleasure to introduce my good friend and colleague Valerie Jarrett, who as you all know currently serves as Senior Advisor to President Obama and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement. She traveled here from Washington today for this historic moment, and we are glad you are here. Thank you so much.
    Ms. Jarrett: Thank you Ambassador Rice. Ambassador Rice has been a trusted advisor and friend of President Obama and has provided invaluable advice and counsel and guidance throughout both his campaign and in the early months of his administration. We are so proud of her efforts and hard work and the men and women serving at the U.S. Mission, working on the front lines of the Administration’s effort to usher in a new era of engagement.
    I am thrilled to be joining Ambassador Rice on this occasion, as the United States takes this historic step toward advancing our global commitment to fundamental human rights for all persons with disabilities.
    Last week, the President took a bold step forward for our country and announced that the United States of America would sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Now we fulfill his commitment, and the United States of America proudly joins the 141 other nations in signing this extraordinary Convention – the first new human rights convention of the 21st century.
    Today, as Susan mentioned, 650 million people – ten percent of the world’s population – live with a disability. In developing countries, ninety percent of the children with disabilities do not attend school. And women and girls with disabilities are too often the subject of deep discrimination. This extraordinary treaty calls on all nations to guarantee the rights of those that afforded under the Americans with Disabilities Act, urges equal protection and equal benefit before the law for all citizens, and reaffirms the inherent dignity, worth, and independence of all persons with disabilities worldwide.
    It is fitting that we are signing this Convention just a few days after the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Due in large part to the ADA, we have made great progress. But as the President said last Friday, and as the Ambassador just said, we are still not satisfied. We have much work to do.
    Today, the President, together with Secretary Clinton, once again demonstrate their commitment to people with disabilities at home and around the world, and I am pleased to announce the creation of a new, senior level disability human rights position at the State Department. This individual will be charged with developing a comprehensive strategy to promote the rights of persons with disabilities internationally; he or she will coordinate a process for the ratification of the Convention in conjunction with the other federal offices; last but not least, this leader will serve as a symbol of public diplomacy on disability issues, and work to ensure that the needs of persons with disabilities are addressed in international situations. By appointing the necessary personnel to lead and ensure compliance on disability human rights issues, the President reinforces his commitment to the UN Convention.
    We look forward to the Senate giving swift consideration and approval to the Convention once the President submits it them for their advice and consent.
    With this signing, we once again confirm that disability rights are not just civil rights to be enforced here at home; they are universal human rights to be promoted around the world. So we proudly join the international community in protecting the human rights for all, thank you very much.
    In attendance at the signing ceremony were the following guests:
    • Mr. Carl Augusto, President and CEO, American Foundation for the Blind
    • Ms. Marca Bristo, President and CEO, Access Living; Chair, US International Council on Disabilities
    • Ms. Ann Cody, Director of Policy and Global Outreach, BlazeSports America
    • Mr. Fred Doulton, Social Affairs Officer, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs
    • Ms. Akiko Ito, Chief, Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs
    • Jessica Neuwirth, Director of the New York Office for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
    • Ms. Patricia O’Brien, Chief Legal Advisor, UN
    • Ms. Matthew Sapolin, NYC Commissioner for People with Disabilities
    • Dr. William Kennedy Smith, President and Founder, Center for International Rehabilitation
    • Ms. Marjorie Tiven, Commissioner of the New York City Commission for the United Nations, Consular Corps and Protocol
     

  • The President announced today the 16 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilan honor. The President praised the recipients for breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens: "These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds. Their tremendous accomplishments span fields from science to sports, from fine arts to foreign affairs. Yet they share one overarching trait: Each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way."
    The awards will be presented on August 12. Here is a little bit about this year’s recipients:
    • Nancy Goodman Brinker is the founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s leading breast cancer grassroots organization.
    • Pedro José Greer, Jr. is the Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs and Florida International University School of Medicine. He is also the founder of Camillus Health Concern, an agency that provides medical care to over 10,000 homeless and low-income patients each year in Miami.
    • Stephen Hawking is an internationally-recognized theoretical physicist, and is the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University.
    • Jack Kemp was a U.S. Congressman, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Republican Nominee for Vice President in 1996. He died in May, 2009
    • Sen. Edward Kennedy is one of the longest-serving and greatest Senators of all time. He has worked tirelessly for health care reform over the last five decades.
    • Billie Jean King is known for winning the famous "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match, and championing gender equality issues not only in sports, but in all aspects of life.
    • Rev. Joseph Lowery has been a leader of the civil rights movement since the 1950s, and co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Dr. Martin Luther King.
    • Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow is the last living Plains Indian war chief, and author of works on Native American history and culture who has served as an inspiration to young Native Americans across the country.
    • Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official from a major city in the United States. He was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, and encouraged LGBT citizens to live their lives openly.
    • Sandra Day O’Connor was a Supreme Court Justice from 1981 until her retirement in 2006. She was the first woman ever to sit on the Supreme Court, and has received numerous awards for her outstanding achievements.
    • Sidney Poitier is an actor known for breaking racial barriers. He is the first African American to be nominated and win a Best Actor Academy Award.
    • Chita Rivera is an actress, singer and dancer, who has broken barriers and inspired a generation of women. In 2002, she was the first Hispanic to receive the Kennedy Center Honor.
    • Mary Robinson was the first female President of Ireland and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Since 2002, she has been the President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative.
    • Janet Davison Rowley, M.D., is the Blum Riese Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine, Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology and Human Genetics at the University of Chicago. She discovered the first consistent chromosome translocation in a human cancer.
    • Desmond Tutu is widely regarded as "South Africa’s moral conscience," and was a leading anti-apartheid activist in South Africa.
    • Muhammad Yunus is a global leader in anti-poverty efforts, and pioneered the use of "micro-loans" to provide credit to poor individuals.
    See the official release for a little more detail.
     

     

  • What do you think our homeland security policies and priorities should be? Register now to have your say.
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    Help guide the policies and priorities of the Department of Homeland Security for the next four years. Secretary Janet Napolitano invites you to give your opinion and ideas during the National Dialogue on the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review.
    DHS encourages participation from the homeland security community, all levels of governments, academia, private sector, law enforcement, first responders, and others interested in this topic.
    The first of three dialogues, all hosted by the National Academy for Public Administration, will begin August 3rd. Each dialogue will build on the ones before.
    • First dialogue: August 3 – August 9
    • Second dialogue: August 31 – September 6
    • Third dialogue: September 28 – October 4
    To learn more and to sign up to get announcements when each dialogue begins, register at www.HomelandSecurityDialogue.org
     

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    download the .mp4 (675.9 MB) | read the transcript

    Speaking to North Carolinians at a town hall in Raleigh, the President made clear why health reform will benefit all Americans: "if you’ve got health insurance, then the reform we’re proposing will also help you because it will provide you more stability and more security. Because the truth is we have a system today that works well for the insurance industry, but it doesn’t work well for you." We all know the horror stories, which is why the health insurance consumer protections that are part of reform are so important.
    At the town hall, the President outlined these core principles:
    Let me be specific. We will stop insurance companies from denying you coverage because of your medical history. (Applause.) I've told this story before – I will never forget watching my own mother, as she fought cancer in her final days, worrying about whether her insurer would claim her illness was a preexisting condition so they could wiggle out of paying for her coverage. How many of you have worried about the same thing? (Applause.) A lot of people have gone through this. Many of you have been denied insurance or heard of someone who was denied insurance because they got – had a preexisting condition. That will no longer be allowed with reform. (Applause.) We won't allow that. (Applause.) We won't allow that.
    With reform, insurance companies will have to abide by a yearly cap on how much you can be charged for your out-of-pocket expenses. No one in America should go broke because of an illness. (Applause.)
    We will require insurance companies to cover routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies – (applause) – eye and foot exams for diabetics, so we can avoid chronic illnesses that cost not only lives, but money. (Applause.)
    No longer will insurance companies be allowed to drop or water down coverage for someone who's become seriously ill. That's not right, it's not fair. (Applause.) We will stop insurance companies from placing arbitrary caps on the coverage you can receive in a given year or in a lifetime.(Applause.)
    So my point is, whether or not you have health insurance right now, the reforms we seek will bring stability and security that you don't have today – reforms that will become more urgent and more urgent with each passing year.
    So, in the end, the debate about reform boils down to a choice between two approaches. The first is projected to double your health care costs over the next decade, make millions more Americans uninsured, bankrupt state and federal governments, and allow insurance companies to run roughshod over consumers. That's one option. That's called the status quo. That's what we have right now.
    I want everybody to understand this. If we do nothing, I can almost guarantee you your premiums will double over the next 10 years because that's what they did over the last 10 years. It will go up three times faster than your wages, so a bigger and bigger chunk of your paycheck will be going into health insurance. It will eat into the possibility of you getting a raise on your job because your employer is going to be looking and saying, I can't afford to give you a raise because my health care costs just went up 10, 20, 30 percent. And Medicare, which seniors rely on, is going to become more and more vulnerable. On current projections, Medicare will be in the red in less than 10 years.
    So that's the status quo. When everybody goes around saying, why is Obama taking on health care – that's the answer. That's one option. I don't like that option. You shouldn't either. (Applause.) That plan doesn't sound too good. That's the health care system we have right now.
    You can read more about the President’s eight health insurance consumer protections here, and figure out how reform will directly affect you and your family.
     

  • Following the initial White House Forum on Health Reform, and then the regional forums across the country, we began holding what we called Health Care Stakeholder Discussions here at the White House. Keeping with the President’s dedication to transparency in the health reform process, we streamed these meetings live here at WhiteHouse.gov.
    It took quite a bit of processing, but we’re pleased to post the video of eight of these meetings below on a wide variety of subjects. All of them were very interesting conversations, and once we got the technology up and running we even found ways to include feedback from our online chats in the meetings.
    Health Care Stakeholder Discussion with Nancy-Ann DeParle
    April 8, 2009, 10:00 am
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    Small Business Health Care Stakeholder Discussion with Nancy-Ann DeParle and Larry Summers
    April 24, 2009, 11:00 am
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    Rural Communities Health Care Stakeholder Discussion with Nancy-Ann DeParle, HRSA Administrator Dr. Mary Wakefield, and Congressman Mike Ross (D-AR)
    May 4, 2009, 10:00 am
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    Physician Health Care Stakeholder Discussion with Nancy-Ann DeParle
    May 27, 2009, 1:00 pm
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    Women’s Health Care Stakeholder Discussion with Nancy-Ann DeParle, Tina Tchen, and Melody Barnes
    June 5, 2009, 11:00 am
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    Health Disparities Health Care Stakeholder Discussion with Nancy-Ann DeParle, Tina Tchen, and Secretary Sebelius
    June 9, 2009, 12:00 pm
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    Physician Health Care Stakeholder Discussion with Mike Hash
    June 18, 2009, 2:30 pm
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    Primary Care Health Care Stakeholder Discussion with Nancy-Ann DeParle
    July 2, 2009, 2:00 pm
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    For the sake of transparency, it is worth noting that the first of these meetings was held on March 26, 2009, and while it was open press we were not able to stream it in part due to the online town hall that was streamed on the same day.
     

  • We’re getting a lot of feedback through our social networks concerning President’s eight health insurance consumer protections.
    Take Twitter, for example. For those of you not familiar with that network, the usernames are preceded with an "@" (for example, ours is @whitehouse) and a unique code (#hcip) is often used to categorize a message.
    Here’s what some folks are saying:
    @travelerbill – I've hd 2 heart ops in 2 yrs-the h/c prots will allow me 2 no longer fear my lifetime coverage maxing out before I do! #hicp
    @DJonRoberts#hicp means my self-employed parents have more money to spend paying back my student loans.
    @monkcat – These will encourage providers to keep us healthy, thus reducing costs, but protection will always be there if/when needed #hicp
    @billstrong – As the father of a terminally ill child, approaching our lifetime private insurance cap knowing we are uninsurable is frightening. #hicp
    @completelydark – "Abide by yearly caps on how much [ins] can charge for out-of-pocket expenses." Yes! My mom stopped meds due to cost. She died 5/24/08 #hicp
    @nbboston – Protections mean I don't have to choose between increasingly high co-pays for preventative care and groceries #hicp
    @TXSolutionaries – together these 8 rules create a unified strategy to reduce costs and improve care, instead of piecemeal and scattered changes #hicp
    @weishin – As a doctor, I won't have to worry about patients not getting screening tests because it's not covered by insurance.
    These eight core principles of health insurance consumer protections demonstrate how health reform legislation will benefit you and your family directly.
    You can read more responses, and react through social networks like Twitter, YouTube or Facebook.
     

  • Today at 3:00, Council of Economic Advisers Chair Christina Romer will be holding a live chat to answer your questions on small business and health insurance reform. She will be answering questions submitted by small business professionals through LinkedIn and WhiteHouse.gov, which the President requested in the Weekly Address on Saturday, as well as a few from the chat as it happens. The final pre-submitted questions were chosen by an informal board of small business owners amongst the 12 million small business professionals on LinkedIn.
    You can read the full CEA report that the President discussed in his addresshere, and let us know your questions and comments on WhiteHouse.gov and Facebook during the chat.
    UPDATE: This event has now concluded.
     

  • At 11:55 this morning in Raleigh, North Carolina, the President will be holding a town hall on health insurance reform and will hone in on 8 core insurance consumer protections that help define how this legislation will affect you directly. You can listen to audio of the town hall here once it starts, or most likely catch some of it on cable news, but in the meantime we have distilled those protections into a single, simple page for you. Thinking through the stories of frustration, anxiety, and even tragedy that you have lived and heard about regarding health insurance, you'll find that these new fundamental protections provide a profound change in how Americans experience health care.
    As the President says in the email below that he sent to White House subscribers this morning, the misinformation will be flying fast and furious over the next month, so it is important to put this stake in the ground telling people what reform is really about. A friend, a family member, or a contact might forward you some anonymous email making ridiculous claims about this or that provision – you can forward this information to them first so they know what is real and what is fake. Read the President's email below and send our page to your friends and family via email, Twitter, Facebook or whatever other methods you can think of. (Sign up for future White House emails here.)
    Good Morning,
    If you’re like most Americans, there’s nothing more important to you about health care than peace of mind.
    Given the status quo, that’s understandable. The current system often denies insurance due to pre-existing conditions, charges steep out-of-pocket fees – and sometimes isn’t there at all if you become seriously ill.
    It’s time to fix our unsustainable insurance system and create a new foundation for health care security. That means guaranteeing your health care security and stability with eight basic consumer protections:
    • No discrimination for pre-existing conditions
    • No exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses, deductibles or co-pays
    • No cost-sharing for preventive care
    • No dropping of coverage if you become seriously ill
    • No gender discrimination
    • No annual or lifetime caps on coverage
    • Extended coverage for young adults
    • Guaranteed insurance renewal so long as premiums are paid
    Over the next month there is going to be an avalanche of misinformation and scare tactics from those seeking to perpetuate the status quo. But we know the cost of doing nothing is too high. Health care costs will double over the next decade, millions more will become uninsured, and state and local governments will go bankrupt.
    It’s time to act and reform health insurance, drive down costs and guarantee the health care security and stability of every American family. You can help by putting these core principles of reform in the hands of your friends, your family, and the rest of your social network.
    Thank you,
    Barack Obama
     

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    download .mp4 (159.8 MB) | read the transcript

    Speaking to tens of thousands of AARP members today, the President told them that "We’ve made a lot of progress over the last few months... I know it's not easy. I know there are folks who will oppose any kind of reform because they profit from the way the system is right now." Forty-four years to the day after Medicare was passed, he pointed out that opponents used the same sort of scare tactics back then: "They'll run all sorts of ads that will make people scared. This is nothing that we haven't heard before.," He noted that at the time opponents called Medicare "socialized medicine," but over the past four decades it has helped seniors live longer, healthier, and more productive lives.
    President Barack Obama, center, with AARP Chief Executive Officer A. Barry Rand, left, and AARP President Jennie Chin Hansen, right, participates in an AARP tele-town hall on health care
    (President Barack Obama, center, with AARP Chief Executive Officer A. Barry Rand, left, and AARP President Jennie Chin Hansen, right, participates in an AARP tele-town hall on health care Tuesday, July 28, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.)
    And as consensus builds for comprehensive health insurance reform, we are closer than ever before to passage thanks to groups like AARP, an organization which has been at the forefront of the fight for reform. The President held a tele-town hall today at AARP headquarters to answer questions from seniors about how reform will affect them. In his opening remarks, the President outlined the main pillars in his plan for health insurance reform:
    And that's why I want to start by taking a new approach that emphasizes prevention and wellness, so that instead of just spending billions of dollars on costly treatments when people get sick, we're spending some of those dollars on the care they need to stay well: things like mammograms and cancer screenings and immunizations – common-sense measures that will save us billions of dollars in future medical costs.
    We're also working to computerize medical records, because right now, too many folks wind up taking the same tests over and over and over again because their providers can't access previous results.  Or they have to relay their entire medical history – every medication they've taken, every surgery they've gotten – every time they see a new provider. Electronic medical records will help to put an end to all that.
    We also want to start rewarding doctors for quality, not just the quantity, of care that they provide. Instead of rewarding them for how many procedures they perform or how many tests they order, we'll bundle payments so providers aren't paid for every treatment they offer with a chronic – to a patient with a chronic condition like diabetes, but instead are paid for how are they managing that disease overall. And we'll create incentives for physicians to team up and treat a patient better together, because we know that produces better outcomes.
    And we certainly won't cut corners to try to cut costs, because we know that doesn't work. And that's something that we hear from doctors all across the country. For example, we know that when we discharge people from the hospital a day early without any kind of coordinated follow-up care, too often they wind up right back in the hospital a few weeks later. If we had just provided the right care in the first place, we'd save a whole lot of money and a lot of human suffering, as well.
    Finally, we'll eliminate billions in unwarranted subsidies to insurance companies in the Medicare Advantage program – giveaways that boost insurance company profits but don't make you any healthier. And we'll work to close that doughnut hole in Medicare Part D that's costing so many folks so much money. Drug companies, as a consequence of our reform efforts, have already agreed to provide deeply discounted drugs, which will mean thousands of dollars in savings for the millions of seniors paying full price when they can least afford it.
    The President then took questions via email, phone, and from the audience. One question was about whether insurance companies will be required to cover people with pre-existing conditions, which the President answered with a resounding yes:
    Number one, if you've got a preexisting condition, insurance companies will still have to insure you. This is something very personal for me. My mother, when she contracted cancer, the insurance companies started suggesting that, well, maybe this was a preexisting condition; maybe you could have diagnosed it before you actually purchased your insurance. Ultimately, they gave in, but she had to spend weeks fighting with insurance companies while she's in the hospital bed, writing letters back and forth just to get coverage for insurance that she had already paid premiums on. And that happens all across the country. We are going to put a stop to that. That's point number one.
    Point number two: We're going to reform the insurance system so that they can't just drop you if you get too sick. They won't be able to drop you if you change jobs or lose your job, as long as you're willing to pay your premiums. They are – we're going to make sure that we eliminate sort of the lifetime cap that creates a situation – a lot of times people get sick, then they find out the fine print says that at a certain point they just stop paying, or they'll pay for your hospitalization but they don't pay for your doctor, or they pay for your doctor but not your hospitalization.
    We want clear, easy-to-understand, straightforward insurance that people can purchase. So that's point number one.
    Point number two is, in addition to those reforms, we want to make sure that we set up what's called a health insurance exchange so that anybody who wants insurance but can't get it on their job right now, they can go to this exchange; they can select a plan that works for them or their families – these are private-option plans, but we also want to have a public option that's in there – but whatever you select, you will get high-quality care for a reasonable cost, the same way Congress, members of Congress, are able to select from a menu of plans that they have available. And if you're very – if the plan that you select is still too expensive for your income, then we would provide you a little bit of help so that you could actually afford the coverage.
    So the idea behind reform is: Number one, we reform the insurance companies so they can't take advantage of you. Number two, that we provide you a place to go to purchase insurance that is secure, that isn't full of fine print, that is actually going to deliver on what you pay for. Number three, we want to make sure that you're getting a good bargain for your health care by reducing some of the unnecessary tests and costs that have raised rates.
    Even if you have health insurance, your premiums have gone up faster than wages over the last 10 years. Your out-of-pocket costs have gone up about 62 percent, which means that for people who aren't on Medicare right now, people let's say 54 to – or 50-64, a lot of those folks are paying much higher premiums than they should be – hundreds or thousands of additional dollars that could be saved if we had a system that was more sensible than it is right now.
    As a perfect example of the scare tactics spread by those looking to protect the status quo, one questioner from North Carolina repeated a myth spread by her home state Member of Congress recently. The audience had a laugh as the President dispelled it:
    Q: I have heard lots of rumors going around about this new plan, and I hope that the people that are going to vote on this is going to read every single page there. I have been told there is a clause in there that everyone that's Medicare age will be visited and told to decide how they wish to die. This bothers me greatly and I'd like for you to promise me that this is not in this bill.
    THE PRESIDENT: You know, I guarantee you, first of all, we just don't have enough government workers to send to talk to everybody, to find out how they want to die.
    I think that the only thing that may have been proposed in some of the bills – and I actually think this is a good thing – is that it makes it easier for people to fill out a living will.
    Read the transcript for his full explanation of how this provision actually works, as well as his full answers to a whole range of questions seniors have been asking.
     

  • "These Recovery funds are essential in helping local law enforcement agencies fulfill their mission of making the places in which we all live and work as safe as possible, "Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey explained at today’s event, where the Vice President and Attorney General Eric Holder announced a major commitment to aid our law enforcement officials who work tirelessly to defend our communities.
    (Vice President Joe Biden announces new COPS funding at an event in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tuesday, July 28, 2009. Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
    The Recovery Act is providing $1 billion in grants to fund the hiring and rehiring of law enforcement officers in all 50 states. The grants will be awarded to 1,046 agencies across the country, and will provide 100 percent of the salary and benefits for 4,699 officers for three years. The Vice President explained that these Recovery Act funds will not only save and create jobs, but will also help build safer communities as we move forward:
    A big part of the Recovery Act is about building communities – making them as strong as they can be, allowing every American family to live a better life than the one they are leading now. And we can’t achieve the goal of stronger communities without supporting those who keep our streets safe.
    The Recovery Act grants will be administered by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). The Department of Justice received over 7,200 requests for the grants. Attorney General Holder explained how grant recipients were chosen:
    And these officers will go directly to the places they are needed most. These funds are focused on hiring officers who will be on the streets, in our neighborhoods, and on the front lines of our fight to keep the American people safe. And let us not forget: keeping brave and well-trained police officers employed is also good for our economy. These grants not only represent 4,699 men and women across our country fighting crime, but also 4,699 men and women who will be able to make house and car payments, make ends meet, and save for their children’s future.
    Of course, with such an incredible program, it’s no surprise that the number of grant requests was overwhelming. We received applications from more than 7,000 cities and towns, and made funding decisions based on crime rate, financial need, and community policing activities. The thousands of applications that poured in are indicative of both the tough times our states, cities and tribes are facing and the unyielding commitment by law enforcement to making our communities safer. I’m proud to be a part of an administration that backs up the commitment of our law enforcement community not just with words, but with the resources our partners need.
     

  • At 1:30 today, the President will participate in a tele-town hall on health care reform at AARP headquarters. The President will take questions from the audience, and through a conference call with tens of thousands of AARP member.
    As you may remember, the AARP recently endorsed the President’s plan to close the Medicare "doughnut hole" as part of the health care reform bill. The historic compromise with pharmaceutical companies will lead to an $80 billion reduction in costs, providing relief for millions of seniors. But this isn’t the only way the President’s plan will benefit Americans, whether you have insurance or not. You can read more about his plan in an op-ed published today by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Here is an excerpt where she explains how the administration’s plan will work to reduce costs, while providing quality care and choice – core principles that have helped develop the consensus we've seen emerging:
    First, to provide Americans with more affordable choices, we’ll set up a marketplace where you can compare plans and pick the one that’s right for you. None of the plans would be allowed to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition. And one of the options should be a public plan that would increase competition and keep private insurance companies honest.
    Second, we have to align incentives for doctors and hospitals so that they’re rewarded based on the quality of care they provide, not on how many tests or procedures they prescribe.
    Third, we need to move from a sickness system to a wellness system. By investing in prevention and emphasizing healthy lifestyles, we can save money while improving health.
    Finally, reform must not add to our deficit over the next ten years. To that end, we have already identified hundreds of billions of dollars in savings – savings from money that’s already being spent on health care, but is funding waste and overpayments to insurance companies.
     

  • The First Lady visited Caroline Family Practice Community Health Center yesterday, where she participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to honor the opening of the new clinic. The clinic opened last week, after using $1.3 million in Recovery Act funds, part of $2 billion designated to upgrade and expand community health centers, to convert an abandoned grocery store into a medical facility.
    (First Lady Michelle Obama participates in a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Bowling Green Community Health Care Center in Bowling Green, VA, Monday, July 27, 2009. Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)
    Before giving her remarks, the First Lady met with two primary care physicians, a dentist, a medical student, a pediatrician, and a patient to listen to their health care experiences, and ask a few questions. The First Lady was particularly interested in the shortage of primary care physicians in this country. Community health centers play a critical role in our health care system, providing primary care to 17 million people – people who likely would not otherwise receive care. The Caroline Family Practice is located in Bowling Green, a rural area north of Richmond, which has been federally designated as a medically underserved area. As the First Lady explained, this clinic provides patients with access to the primary and preventative care they need, instead of forcing them to resort to expensive emergency room visits:
    And one of the main reasons for this is the reason why we're all here today – and it's because that right now, today here in America, 60 million people in this country don't have adequate access to primary care. They don't have any access at all. Many of them are uninsured and can't afford any kind of health care at all. That's a good chunk of them. Many actually have insurance, but live in underserved areas, like this one – inner cities or small rural towns where there aren't any primary care providers to speak of. They have to drive hours.
    So what happens to folks in America in this situation is that they don't get check-ups. They don't get regular, routine screenings that keep us healthy. When they get sick, their only option is to wait until it gets so bad that they have to visit the emergency room. And then they wind up lurching from illness to illness, and crisis to crisis, getting emergency care instead of health care. And we wind up spending billions of dollars each year to treat diseases that – for far less money – we could prevent in the first place.
    We will spend thousands of dollars for an emergency room visit and hospital stay for a child, for example, having an acute asthma attack that could have been prevented by a $100 doctor's visit and a $50 inhaler. We'll spend tens of thousands to treat complications from diabetes that could have been prevented by a couple hundred dollars worth of counseling on nutrition and blood sugar monitoring. And today, chronic – and preventable – illnesses like diabetes and obesity, heart disease and high blood pressure consume 85 percent of all health care spending in this country. That's what we're spending our money on here.
    The First Lady explained that we need more emphasis on providing care, and educating people so that we can prevent disease, instead of just treating it. This is what reform is all about – providing access to quality, affordable care to all people. She stressed that health insurance reform is critical for all of us, even those who are currently satisfied with their insurance:
    But the question becomes, even if you're in that situation, what happens if you lose your job, and then your coverage goes away, and then you can't find a new job right away? Those are some of the stories I've heard. Or if you want to change jobs, but your new employer doesn't offer any insurance at all because more and more employers are finding it difficult to keep up with the cost of health care? Or what if you decide you want to change insurance plans, but your new insurer decides that you have a preexisting condition, or your age or your gender or your health status means that they need to charge you a fortune for that insurance? What if you get sick, and they decide you're too expensive to insure? That happens. And then they drop your coverage completely. See, these are the things that happen to hardworking, responsible people who've done exactly what they thought they should do. It's happening every single day across this country.
    And of course, there are plenty of folks who won't experience any of these misfortunes. There really are. They're blessed. And despite rising costs and declining coverage, some of them are convinced that things are just fine right now. But even if that were true, even if the status quo were acceptable to us, then the question becomes, what about 10 years from now?
    If we don't pass reform, within a decade we'll actually be spending one out of every five dollars we earn on health insurance. In 30 years, when my kids are ready to come into the world, it will be one in every three dollars spent on health care. So think about that – one in every three dollars by the time our kids get to be where we are. And without reform, what we spend on Medicaid and Medicare – government programs – will eventually be more than what our government spends on anything else – anything else – that we spend today.
    Right now, premiums are rising three times faster than wages – right now, today. And if we don't pass reform, they're going to keep on rising in this way. So think about how much we'll be paying 10 years from now without reform. That's what we have to project. Folks who have insurance they like now could find themselves overwhelmed with sky-high premiums and much higher out-of-pocket costs
     

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    The President invited the Detroit Shock to the White House today, where he congratulated them on their third WNBA Championship in six years. Earlier in the day, the Shock hosted a WNBA Fit Clinic at the local Boys and Girls Club, as part of United We Serve. The President praised the team's dedication to service, and noted the great work they have done in Detroit.
    He also praised the team, and the WNBA, for serving as inspiration to a generation of young girls who dream of playing professional sports:
    Let me also say something as a father – I was mentioning it to the team before we came out. It's hard to believe the WNBA has already been around for 12 years. And that means that my daughters have never known a time when women couldn't play professional sports.
    They look at the TV and they see me watching SportsCenter and they see young women who look like them on the screen. And that lets them and all our young women, as well as young men know that we should take for granted that women are going to thrive and excel as athletes. And it makes my daughters look at themselves differently; to see that they can be champions, too. So, as a father, I want to say thank you. (Applause.) And thank you to all the WNBA athletes who work hard each day to set a positive example to which all our daughters can aspire.
     

  • Cross-posted from the OMB blog.
    The President believes that a piece of legislation as important as the Recovery Act must be implemented with an unprecedented degree of transparency. That is why, in March, he imposed substantial limits on lobbyists in their communications with the Federal government about the Recovery Act. He also ordered OMB to evaluate agencies’ actual experiences with the restrictions in the first 60 days and then recommend whether any modifications were needed. That review resulted in a decision to tighten the restrictions and, on Friday, OMB updated the formal guidance on Recovery Act communications with lobbyists.
    We continue to demand unprecedented transparency for lobbyist contacts and, for the first time in history, we now are bringing transparency to the world of unregistered lobbyists – CEOs and others with special access who would contact an agency or department about their interest in Recovery funding. By expanding the restrictions on oral communications to apply to everybody who tries to exert influence on Recovery Act competitive funding decisions, we reinforce merit-based decision-making and transparency. Tough lines also need to be bright lines, so everyone can understand them. That’s why the updated approach focuses these restrictions on oral communications after formal applications for competitive funding have been filed and before the funds are awarded.
    Contacts by registered lobbyists prior to the filing of a formal application remain subject to the previously announced restrictions, which require rapid Internet disclosure of the contact. These rules are by far the toughest ever and go well beyond the minimum disclosures previously required by law. To make that disclosure more consistent, the White House shortly will provide departments and agencies with a new technology tool – so that thorough reporting and information standards will be easily accessible for anyone to see.
    Peter R. Orszag is Director of the Office of Management and Budget 
     

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