THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT TO ACADEMIC HEALTH LEADERS The East Room
12:22 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Dr. Peck, Dr. Rabkin, Secretary Shalala. I want to thank also Dr. Michael Johns, Dr. Herbert Pardes, and Dr. Charles Epps for the work they did to bring together this very distinguished group of representatives from our academic health centers around America.
And I'm sure that the press knows it, but it's not just the people who are up here, but all the people who are here in the room have come from all over America, from every region of our country, in very large numbers, with very strong feelings about the central issue in this health care debate, which is whether we are finally going to join the ranks of other advanced countries in the world by providing health care to all Americans, and still preserving what is best and what is excellent about our health care system.
The interesting thing is that the point which is being made here today, which I think has not been made with sufficient clarity before, is that over the long run, and now increasingly in the short run, the only way to preserve what is best about our health care system is to fix what is wrong with it -- to provide basic, decent coverage to all Americans. Otherwise you will see continued incredible financial pressures on the academic health care centers, continued difficulty in providing for the health care of the people who are now in your charge, and eventual difficulty in training and educating the world's finest physicians and other health care professionals.
I do not believe that connection has yet been made. I also want to thank you, particularly Dr. Rabkin, for making the point about rationing. The suggestion that somehow a very important benefit package that includes primary and preventive health care, as well as guaranteeing access to the people who need it, to America's finest high-tech medicine, is rationing, as compared with what we have today, with 39 million Americans or more without any health insurance; with 58 million who don't have any health insurance at sometime during the year; and with 81 million who live in families with preexisting conditions and often worry about accessing the health care system -- the suggestion that somehow we don't have rationing today and we will have it if this passes is, to put it mildly, a stretch of reality.
As front-line providers, you know the truth. You know the health care truth, and you know the financial truth. The significance, again, of this meeting today is this to me: I spent a lot of time in academic health care centers. I know that the people who run them are both Democrats and Republicans and Independents. Maybe even some of them voted for the third-party candidate last time. I know that the board members of academic health care centers are both Republicans and Democrats. I know that where they serve, there is almost fanatic support for them among people from all walks of life. In other words, the American people when they deal with you in your communities and in your states, put politics behind and put health care first, and ask, what are the facts? What are the health care facts? What is the state of medical knowledge? What is the financial truth?
If we could just get those three questions asked and answered in the Congress of the United States, we would get a health care bill that covers all Americans. In other words, if we could have people of both parties bring to the deliberations of the law in Congress less politics and more concern for health care, the way you do and the way you force people to deal with you just because of what you do, we would pass a bill in this session of Congress, with bipartisan support, guarantees health care to all Americans. This surely is not a political issue.
What I want to ask you to do today is -- we're all here today preaching to the saved, as we say at home, and hoping that through the magic of the media it will reach others. But I want to ask you to personally -- personally commit that you will speak to the members of the Congress from your state of both parties, and ask them to make these decisions based on what is good for the health of Americans, what is good for the economy of America, and how it will affect your institution in terms of health care and finances. If we can get beyond the politics to the reality, we can prevail here. And I want you to do that. You can do that. You can do that.
As much as any group in America -- I don't know -- when I started talking to members of Congress, that's the one thing I found that -- without regard to their party, their philosophy or their predisposition on health care reform, they all knew that they had a medical center in their home state they were terribly proud of.
And so I ask you, as we close this ceremony today, to commit to make a personal contact and a personal appeal to every member of the Congress from your state to put politics aside and put the health care of the American people first.
If we can do that, and if people understand that you represent what is best in American health care, and we can't preserve what is best unless we fix what is wrong and cover everybody, that central understanding will carry the American people to a victorious result.
We need you. You have done your country a great service today. Please follow it up in talking firstly with the members of Congress.
Thank you so very much. (Applause.)
END12:28 P.M. EDT