Read all posts from April 2010

  • Over at the Health Reform section of, we’ve compiled a lot of information on what health reform means for Americans, whether they get insurance through their work, buy it themselves or for their families, have a small business, are on Medicare, or just don’t have any insurance at all.

    But there are obviously other ways to break down the information, so by popular demand we are also providing these fact sheets on what reform means for some of the different communities that make up America.  If you or somebody you know is interested, by all means have a look, print it out, or send it around:

  • Throughout the health care reform debate, we’ve seen opponents of reform come out in full force to misrepresent how this legislation will affect the American people. For months they have been targeting seniors---trying to deceive them into thinking that the President’s plan will reduce their guaranteed benefits. This is simply untrue. Under the new health reform law, no guaranteed Medicare benefits will be cut.  Here is the real truth:  The new health reform law will lower costs for seniors while improving the quality of care. That’s why seniors groups like AARP strongly support the new law. Let’s take a look at some of the key benefits for seniors:

    • Under the new health reform law health care reform, seniors will get relief from exorbitant prescription drug costs that millions face when reach the gap in coverage known as the doughnut hole. This year, Medicare beneficiaries will get a $250 rebate if they hit this doughnut hole. And next year, they will receive a 50% discount on brand-name drugs in the donut hole.  By 2020, the prescription drug donut hole will be completely closed.  As AARP noted in its statement yesterday, “by completely closing the doughnut hole, people in Medicare Part D thankfully no longer have to make the tough decision to either pay bills or split pills.”
    • Right now, seniors pay up to 20 percent of the cost of many of their preventive services. But next year, thanks to health reform, Medicare beneficiaries will receive free preventive care and annual wellness checkups at no cost.
    • Reform will strengthen the financial health of Medicare through the elimination of waste and fraud, and by ending overpayments to private insurance companies. Through reform, unwarranted subsidies to private health plans will be reduced. Medicare’s guaranteed benefits will be protected.
    • Seniors will see their care improve as we move to a system where providers are rewarded based on the quality of their care. With these changes, physicians and hospitals will be incentivized to reduce medical errors and coordinate care to keep people healthy.

    So, while opponents of reform try to distort the facts and spread fear, seniors can rest assured that their coverage will be more comprehensive and more affordable as a result of health reform. 

    Linda Douglass is with the White House Office of Health Reform 

  • The American workforce today is not our parents’ workforce.  In the last generation, we broke down barriers so that more women could enter the workforce.  In recent years, we have seen economic changes that have made those paychecks that women bring home essential to their family budgets.  Two-thirds of American families with kids are headed by two working parents or a single parent.  Women now make up half of all American workers.  Women and men are facing demands from work, education demands, child care and elderly parent care demands, and retirement demands.

    We need a 21st century workplace to meet the changing needs of the 21st century workforce.  This is important not only for employees, but also for employers – because the companies that provide flexible workplaces that address the needs of this changing workforce are the companies that will stay productive, competitive and profitable in the 21st century.

    These are the findings of a new report issued by the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, and this is the reason why the White House Council on Women Girls hosted a path-breaking forum yesterday addressing Workplace Flexibility.   The White House Workplace Flexibility Forum brought together a diverse, accomplished group—from academia, labor, government, media, non-profits, and business—to focus on this issue and its implementation at all levels in both the public and private sector.  

    Read the Transcript  |  Download Download | mp3 (47MB)

    Workplace flexibility affects both men and women alike.  And now, as we consider how to build a more sustainable and successful economic future, a conversation about this issue has never been more important for America’s workers and their employers.  And to underscore the importance of this issue to the Administration, both the First Lady and the President of the United States addressed the participants at the Forum.

    It was my honor to kick-off the afternoon’s event and introduce First Lady Michelle Obama, who spoke about her own struggles to balance her career and family commitments, as well as her experience as a manager who implemented more flexible work policies.  She told listeners that when her employees have been allowed more time to be better parents, they are better workers.  They stayed in their jobs longer and were more productive.  This notion may seem contradictory, but it is a finding that is echoed by many of our country’s leading businesses.

    We then heard from an experienced panel, moderated by Claire Shipman, author of Womenomics and senior correspondent for ABC’s Good Morning America.   Dr. Christy Romer, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, discussed its report, “Work-life Balance and the Economics of Workplace Flexibility,” which lays out the wide variety of flexibility strategies now in use, and the economic benefits to workers, companies, and our nation’s economy. Dr. Romer was joined by the Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis; the CEO of Campbell’s Soup, Douglas Conant; and Campbell’s Soup Communications Director, Beth Jolly.   From the perspective of both the public and private sector, these panelists provided real-life examples of best practices, which we hope will be adopted in more workplaces around the country.  

    In several break-out sessions, small groups discussed their own experiences with workplace flexibility, from both an analytical and a practical standpoint.  They shared success stories, and the unique combination of participants in each session made for open and honest discussions.    

    Following the break-outs, the group reconvened to hear an announcement from John Berry, Director of the Administration’s Office of Personnel and Management (OPM).  Director Berry rolled-out the federal government’s plan to respond to the new needs of our changing workforce. This will be a pilot program to see how OPM employees respond to an environment in which they are provided with clear instructions about what needs to get done and then allows them to work independently to meet objectives and deadlines, while only measuring results in terms of productivity.

    President Obama at Workplace Flexibility Forum

    President Barack Obama addresses the closing session of the White House Council on Women and Girls’ Forum on Workplace Flexibility at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The audience is reflected in a mirrored window at left. March 31, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    Following John Berry, President Obama wrapped up the day’s program with remarks reinforcing his administration’s commitment to this issue—not just as a “women’s issue,” but as an issue that affects the well-being of our families, the success of our businesses, and the future of our nation’s economy. He praised the business representatives who have embraced workplace flexibility, and put them on notice that the government will be creating the working conditions necessary to compete with them for the best and brightest talent available.  By doing so, the President pledged to support an improvement in flexibility for federal employees and, thus, an overall improvement in service to the American people.

    The conversations started at this Forum today will continue in the coming months in places all around the country.  By engaging directly with communities, we will continue to learn about practices and challenges to implementation on the ground, in local government and local businesses.  All of these voices must be heard, because it’s an issue that fundamentally affects how all Americans work and live.

    I encourage you to stay connected with the White House Council on Women and Girls for updates and progress reports on this very important issue. 

    Valerie Jarrett is a Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls

  • Ed. Note: Read more about benefits for small businesses in our Health Reform section.

    Few aspects of our health care system provided a greater impetus for reform than the degree to which the status quo created disincentives, barriers and obstacles for responsible behavior.  Take, for example, the case of small businesses that want to provide health care for their workers.

    Recently, someone I know who runs a very small company that provides health care to its workers recounted to me his decision to hire a well-qualified job applicant who had undergone surgery for a serious condition. The moral choice was clear to him, but he told me that he knew from past experience that a single serious illness of an employee could drive premiums so high he might be forced to cut back health benefits to his 13 existing employees. These are the cruel choices that our current health care system imposes on those small business owners who want to do right by their workers.

    Small business owners trying to do the right thing by providing health care to their workers face not a smooth road, but a difficult obstacle course.  Compared to large businesses that have bargaining power and the ability to pool risk, the owners of millions of very small businesses face premiums that are 18% higher and administrative costs three times greater.  Earlier this year, many small businesses reported rate increases ranging from 20% to 40%.  And that does not even capture the constant uncertainty: the knowledge that they are always just one single worker’s serious illness away from being forced to choose between the health security of their workers and the economic health of their business.

    With the fundamental insurance reforms and new health exchanges that are at the heart of the recently signed health reform bill, any small businesses or non-profit with 100 employees or less will be able to enter the new health exchanges and, for the first time, benefit from the same negotiating muscle and choices that their larger competitors enjoy today.

    But as President Obama will highlight today, the beginning of change will not have to wait for full implementation of all aspects of health reform.  Starting this year – indeed starting retroactively to January 1, 2010 – a new small business health care tax credit will be in effect that will provide a 35% tax credit on health premiums, with the credit rising to 50% in 2014. A similar tax credit will even be available to non-profits. This type of small business tax relief – long championed by Senator Durbin and many other members of Congress from both parties – is targeted to where the barriers and lack of coverage are the greatest. The $40 billion in tax credits over ten years will be aimed at many of the four million small businesses with under 25 employees (just 53 percent of firms this size provide coverage), and will be most generous for the firms with 3 to 9 workers, whose rate of offering health insurance has fallen from 58 percent in 2002 to just 46 percent in 2009.

    A small business with 12 full-time employees that fully paid for health care could see tax relief of over $25,000 in 2010 – and over $40,000 in 2014. That’s not a lot for Wal-Mart perhaps, but it could be enough to help support a new hire, a critical new investment, or health coverage for part-time workers at hundreds of thousands of small businesses across the country.

    Yet the benefits of such newly-passed provisions like the small business health care tax credit cannot be measured only in dollars and cents: their value also lies in the importance of ensuring that our health policies put wind at the back – not sand in the face – of those employers who want to do the responsible thing for their workers and their families.


    Gene Sperling is Counselor to the Secretary of the Treasury

  • Today is Census Day - the day of reference that defines who to report as living in your household on your 2010 Census form.

    This morning, President Obama officially declared today "Census Day" in a presidential proclamation.

    Also today, I learned that President Obama recently filled out and mailed back his census form. Below you can see a photo of the President fulfilling his civic obligation to be counted.

    President Obama Fills Out Census Form

    President Barack Obama fills out his 2010 Census form in the Oval Office, March 29, 2010. March 29, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    The First Family experiences a unique privilege every day by living in the White House. But one aspect of their lives that is quite common also happens to be something that often causes confusion when people fill out the census form. The First Ladys mother lives with the family in the White House. Since the census asks for a count of everyone currently living in the household - not just immediate family - the President included his mother-in-law on his census form.

    In these difficult economic times, it's common for extended family and friends to live with another family, yet many households mistakenly leave these individuals off their census forms.

    Like the President, millions of you have already completed your form and mailed it back. You got the message that doing so is important and saves taxpayers the cost of sending out a trained census taker to interview you in person.

    And the 10 simple questions you answered on the form are very close to those asked in the first-ever U.S. census in 1790. All of us today are helping to fulfill the goals of our Founding Fathers, especially James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, who played key roles in that 1790 Census. It was their invention to ensure the fairest possible political representation in our government.

    You followed in our Founders footsteps, completed a great act of civic responsibility and contributed to wise stewardship of Federal tax dollars.

    Now you can follow your community's progress in returning census forms. A new interactive map provides daily updates of the percentage of returned census forms. We encourage you to check the map frequently over the coming weeks to see how your community is doing compared to 2000, and also see how others across the country are faring.

    While you're visiting our Web site, explore its other features, such as an interactive form that explains the purpose and history of each question, assistance guides in 59 languages, and a page that describes the origins of the census in the Constitution.

    As for those of you who haven't yet filled out your form, you still have a couple of weeks left. It's not too late to do what many of your neighbors have already done.

    So do your part to make the 2010 Census a success -- fill out your form and mail it back.

    Robert Groves is Director of the U.S. Census Bureau