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Obama's opening remarks at Ohio town hall

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington on July 22, 2009. (UPI Photo/Alexis C. Glenn)
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington on July 22, 2009. (UPI Photo/Alexis C. Glenn) | License Photo

SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio, July 23 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama's opening remarks Thursday at a town hall meeting on healthcare in Shaker Heights, Ohio:

Hello, everybody. Hello.

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Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Please, everybody have a seat. Thank you.

Hello.

Hello, Shaker Heights.

Hello, Ohio.

It is great to be here.

There are a couple of quick -- quick acknowledgements I want to make.

First of all, please give Rick (ph) a big round of applause for his introduction.

Some special guests that we've got.

First of all, the governor of the great state of Ohio, Ted Strickland, is in the house.

There he is right there.

Your state treasurer, Kevin Boyce, is here.

Your secretary of state, Jennifer Brunner, is here.

The mayor of the great city of Cleveland, Frank Jackson's here.

Shaker Heights Mayor Earl Leiken is here.

The Shaker Heights school superintendent, Mark Freeman, is here.

Not here, but a couple of my favorite people, Congresswoman Marcia Fudge and Sherrod Brown couldn't be here today. They've got work to do in Washington.

It is good to be back in the great state of Ohio.

Now, I know there are those who like to report on the back and forth in Washington, but, you know, my only concern is the people who sent us to Washington: the families feeling the pain of this recession; the folks I've met across this country who have lost jobs and savings and health insurance, but haven't lost hope; the citizens who defied the cynics and the skeptics, who went to the polls to demand real and lasting change.

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Change was the cause of my campaign, it is the cause of my presidency. And when my administration came into office we were facing the worst economy since the Great Depression. We were losing an average of 700,000 jobs per month.

Hundreds of thousands of Ohioans have felt that pain firsthand. Our financial system was on the verge of collapse, meaning families and small businesses couldn't get the credit they need. And experts were warning that there was a serious chance that our economy could slip into a depression.

But because of the action we took in those first weeks, we've been able to pull our economy back from the brink. And now that the most immediate danger has passed, there are some who question those steps. So let me report to you on exactly what we've done.

We passed a two-year Recovery Act that meant an immediate tax cut for 95 percent of Americans and small businesses -- 95 percent.

It extended unemployment insurance and health coverage for those who lost their jobs in this recession.

It provided emergency assistance to the states like Ohio to prevent even deeper layoffs of police officers and firefighters and teachers and other essential personnel.

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At the same time, we took needed steps to keep the banking system from collapsing, to get credit flowing again, and to help responsible homeowners hurt by falling home prices to stay in their homes.

In the second phase, we're now investing in projects to repair and upgrade roads and bridges, ports and water systems, and in schools, in clean energy initiatives throughout Ohio and all across the country. And these are projects that are creating good jobs and bring lasting improvements to our communities and our country.

There's no doubt that the steps we've taken have helped stave off a much deeper disaster and even greater job loss. They've saved and helped create jobs and have begun to put the brakes on this devastating recession.

But I know that for the millions of Americans who are looking for work and for those who are struggling in this economy, full recovery can't come soon enough.

I hear from you at town hall meetings like this. I read your letters. The stories I hear are the first thing that I think about in the morning. They're the last thing I think about at night. They're the focus of my attention every waking minute of every day.

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The simple truth is that it took us years to get into this mess, and it will take more than a few months to dig our way out of it.

But I want to promise you this, Ohio. We will get there.

And we are doing everything in our power to get our people back to work.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: (OFF-MIKE)

OBAMA: I love you back.

We also have to do more than just rescue this economy from recession; we need to address the fundamental problems that allowed this crisis to happen in the first place. Otherwise, we'd be guilty of the same short-term thinking that got us into this mess. That's what Washington has done for decades. We put things off. And that's what we have to change.

Now is the time to rebuild this economy stronger than before, strong enough to compete in the 21st century, strong enough to avoid the waves of boom and bust that have, time and time again, unleashed a torrent of misfortune on middle-class families across the country.

That's why we're building a new energy economy that will unleash the innovative potential of America's entrepreneurs and create millions of new jobs, helping to end our dependence on foreign oil.

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We are...

We're transforming our education system, from cradle to college, so that this nation once again has the best-educated workforce on the planet.

We are pursuing health insurance reform so that every American has access to quality, affordable health care.

I want to talk about health care just for a second. I want to be clear. Reform isn't just about the nearly 46 million Americans without health insurance. I realize that with all the charges and the criticism being thrown out there in Washington, many Americans may be wondering, well, how does my family or my business stand to benefit from health insurance reform? What's in this for me? Folks are asking that, so I want to answer those questions briefly.

If you have health insurance, the reform we're proposing will give you more security. You just heard Rick's story. Reform will keep the government out of your health care decisions, giving you the option to keep your coverage if you're happy with it. So don't let folks say that somehow we're going to be forcing government-run health care. It's just not true.

And it will keep the insurance companies out of your health care decisions, too by stopping insurers from cherry-picking who they cover and holding insurers to a higher standard for what they cover.

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You won't have to worry about receiving a surprise bill in the mail, because we'll limit the amount your insurance company can force you to pay out of your own pocket.

You won't have to worry about preexisting conditions because never again will anyone in America be denied coverage because of a previous illness or injury.

You won't have to worry about losing coverage if you lose or leave your job, because every American who needs insurance will have access to affordable plans through a health insurance exchange, a marketplace where insurance companies will compete to cover you, not to deny you coverage.

And if you run a small business and you're looking to provide insurance for your employees, you'll be able to choose a plan through this exchange as well.

I've heard from small business owners across America trying to do the right thing, but year after year, premiums rise higher and choices grow more limited. And that's certainly true right here in Ohio.

Now, if you're a taxpayer concerned about deficits, I want you to understand, I am concerned about deficits, too. Because in the eight years before we came to office, Washington enacted two large tax cuts, primarily for the wealthiest Americans, added a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, funded two wars, all without paying for it.

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They didn't pay for it.

The national debt doubled. We were handed a $1.3 trillion deficit when we walked in the door, one we necessarily had to add to in the short term to deal with this financial crisis.

Now, I have to tell you -- I have to say that folks have a lot of nerve who were -- helped us get into this fiscal hole and then start going around trying to talk about fiscal responsibility.

I'm always a little surprised that -- that people don't have a little more shame about having created a mess and then try to point fingers, but that's another topic.

Because the truth is that I am now president. And I am...

And I am...

And I am responsible, and together, we have to restore a sense of responsibility in Washington.

We have to do what businesses and families do. We've got to cut out the things we don't need to pay for the things we do.

And that's why I've pledged that I will not sign health insurance reform -- as badly as I think it's necessary, I won't sign it if that reform adds even one dime to our deficit over the next decade. And I mean what I say.

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Now, we have estimated that two-thirds of the cost of reform to bring health care security to every American can actually be paid for by reallocating money that's already in the system but is being wasted in federal health care programs.

So let me repeat what I just said. About two-thirds of health care reform can be paid for not with new revenues, not with tax hikes, not just with taking money that's not being spent wisely and moving into things that will actually make people healthier.

And that includes, by the way, right now we spend more than $100 billion in unwarranted subsidies that go to insurance companies as part of Medicare, subsidies that do nothing to improve care for our seniors.

We ought to take that money and use it to actually treat people and cover people, not to line pockets of insurers.

And I'm pleased that Congress has already embraced these proposals. And while they're currently working through proposals to finance the remaining costs, I continue to insist that health care reform not be paid for on the backs of middle class families.

Now, in addition to making sure that this plan doesn't add to the deficit in the short term, the bill I sign must also slow the growth of health care costs, while improving care in the long run.

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I just came from the Cleveland Clinic, where I toured the Cardiac Surgery Unit, met some of the doctors who are achieving incredible results for their patients. There's important work being done there, as well as at the university hospitals and Metro Health.

And Cleveland Clinic has one of the best health information technology systems in the country. And that means they can track patients and their progress. It means that they can see what treatments work and what treatments are unnecessary. It means they can provide better care for patients. They don't have to duplicate test after test because it's all online.

They can help patients manage chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure and asthma and emphysema, by coordinating with doctors and nurses, both in the hospital and in the community.

And here is the remarkable thing. They actually have some of the lowest costs for the best care.

That's -- that's the interesting thing about our health care system: Often better care produces lower, not higher expenses, because better care leads to fewer errors that cost money and lives.

You, or your doctor, don't have to fill out the same form a dozen times. Medical professionals are free to treat people, not just illnesses. And patients are provided preventive care earlier, like mammograms and physicals, to avert more expensive and invasive treatment later.

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That's why our proposals include a variety of reforms that would save both money and improve care, and why the nation's largest organizations representing doctors and nurses have embraced our plan.

Our proposals would change incentives so that doctors and nurses finally are free to give patients the best care, not just the most expensive care.

And we also want to create an independent group of doctors and medical experts who are empowered to eliminate waste and inefficiency in Medicare, a proposal that could save even more money.

So overall our proposals will improve the quality of care for our seniors, save them thousands of dollars on prescription drugs. And that, by the way, is why AARP has endorsed our reform efforts as well.

So the fact is, lowering costs is essential for families and businesses here in Ohio and all across the country.

Just to take the Ohio example, over the past few years premiums have riven -- have risen nearly nine times faster than wages. That's something that Rick (ph) and his wife understand very well.

As we meet today, we're seeing double-digit rate increases on insurance premiums all over America. There are reports of insurers raising rates by 28 percent in California, seeking a 23 percent increase in Connecticut, proposing as much as a 56 percent increase in Michigan.

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If we don't act, these premium hikes will be just a preview of coming attractions. And that's a future you can't afford. That is a future that America can't afford.

We spend one of every six of our dollars on health care in America, and that's on track to double in the next three decades. The biggest driving force behind our federal deficit is the skyrocketing cost of Medicare and Medicaid.

Small businesses struggle to cover workers while competing with large businesses. Large businesses struggle to cover workers while competing in the global economy. And we'll never know the full cost of the dreams put on hold, the entrepreneurial ideas that are allowed to languish, the small businesses never founded because of the fear of being without insurance or having to pay for a policy on your own.

So, Ohio, that's why we seek reform. And in pursuit of this reform we've forged a consensus that has never before been reached in the history of this country.

Senators and representatives in five committees are working on legislation. Three have already produced a bill. Health care providers have agreed to do their part to reduce the rate of growth in health care spending. Hospitals have agreed to bring down costs. The drug companies have agreed to make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors. And the American Nurses Association and the American Medical Association, representing millions of nurses and doctors who know our health care system best, they've announced their support for reform.

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I don't think it's too soon for the families who've seen their premiums rise faster than wages year after year. It's not too soon for the businesses forced to drop coverage or shed workers because of mounting health care expenses. It's not too soon for taxpayers asked to close widening deficits that stem from rising health care costs, costs that threaten to leave our children with a mountain of debt.

Reform may be coming too soon for some in Washington, but it's not soon enough for the American people. We can get this done. We don't shirk from a challenge.

We can get this done. People keep on saying, "Well, this is really hard, why are you taking it on?"

You know, America doesn't shirk from a challenge. We were reminded of that earlier this week when Americans and people all over the world marked the 40th anniversary of the moment that the astronauts of the Apollo 11 walked on the surface of the moon. It was the realization of a goal President Kennedy had set nearly a decade earlier. Ten years earlier had said we're going to the moon. And there were times where people said, "Oh, this is foolish. This is impossible." But President Kennedy understood and the American people set about proving what this nation is capable of doing when we set our minds to do it.

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There are those now who are seeing our failure to address stubborn problems as a sign that our best days are behind us, that somehow we've lost our sense of purpose and toughness and capacity to lead, that we can't do big things anymore.

Well, I believe that this generation, like generations past, stand ready to defy the skeptics and the naysayers, that we can once again summon this American spirit, we can rescue our economy, we can rebuild it stronger than before, we can achieve quality, affordable health care for every single American.

That's what we're called upon to do. That's what we will do with your help, Ohio. With your help.

All right. Thank you.

All right. All right. This is the fun part where we (inaudible) ask questions. I'm going to -- I'm going to take off my jacket, guys. So if you want to do the same thing. It's a little hot.

All right.

Now, here's how this is going to work. There are really no rules.

We haven't asked -- you know -- there are no preprogrammed questions. All you have to do is, first of all, everybody should sit down.

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The second thing is, I'm just going to call on as many people as we can during the time that we have. And I'm going to -- just to make sure it's fair, I'm going to call on girl-boy, girl-boy.

So just raise your hand if you've got a question. Try to keep the question relatively brief, I'll try to keep my answer relatively brief.

And we'll try to get through as many as we can. And introduce yourself, if you don't mind.

There are people in the audience with mikes. And so, if you can wait for the microphone so you can introduce yourself and then ask the question so that everybody can hear you. OK?

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