Full Transcript of Pelosi Press Conference on Health Care Reform

WASHINGTON, July 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democratic leaders held a press conference in the Capitol this afternoon with four middle-class Americans, who represent the struggles that so many have with our current health care system. Democrats will soon introduce a bill that will provide quality, affordable health care for the middle class.

Below is a transcript of the entire press conference:

Speaker Pelosi. Good afternoon. It is with great excitement that I welcome you here today as we continue our momentum toward reforming health care to lower costs for all Americans, to improve quality, to bring stability to people's homes.

Today, we are highlighting why we are reforming health care this year and why it is important to do so, and do so as soon as possible. If we do nothing, the cost of health care for the average family of four will increase $1,800 a year. This is a hardship for that family. It's a hardship for businesses. It's a hardship for our economy. It's a hardship for our budget. And so we cannot afford to do nothing.

Over the coming weeks, Congress will continue working with President Obama to make health care reform work for middle-class families in America. We will be on schedule to do as we have planned to vote for this legislation before we leave for the August recess.

But in the meantime, we have a path to success: lowering costs for consumers and businesses; giving greater choice to Americans, including keeping your current doctor or plan if you like them; improving the quality of your care; putting doctors, not insurance companies, back in charge.

You'll hear some of our opponents of reforming health care saying that -- that this is putting government between you and your doctor. That's what they say. It is just the opposite. What we are doing is removing the health insurance company from between patients and their doctors.

In doing so, we will provide stability and peace of mind that people cannot be denied for preexisting conditions, and that people have portability if they go from one job to the next, and that they will not lose their health care if they lose their jobs. And this is why this is so important to middle class families in America.

Today, just before we introduce the legislation, we're so pleased to be joined by three Americans -- well, four -- Joe Greear and Diane Buch who are with us. They are going to talk about pre-existing conditions. Phil Feaster, whom Mr. Hoyer will introduce, his constituent, will talk about seniors and the donut hole; and Tammy Rostov a small business owner.

I would now like to turn this meeting over to the distinguished Democratic leader of the House, Mr. Hoyer.

Majority Leader Hoyer. Thank you very much, Madam Speaker, and thank you for your leadership on this issue and so many others.

There are certain things that are a necessity for all of us: clean air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, and our health. Those are essentials if we're going to have any quality of life. Indeed, the first two are essential if we're going to have life period.

We are debating in this Congress all of those issues. Clean air, we passed an energy bill. We passed it in the timeframe in which we said we'd pass it. It's now in the Senate. Hopefully, they will pass it soon and we will have conference on that issue.

We are now addressing health care, which as I said, is a necessity for all of our families. Reforming health care is an economic imperative, a budget imperative, and a moral imperative. It's an economic imperative because health insurance premiums, as the speaker has indicated, have more than doubled since 2000, straining family budgets across America and going up at $1,800 per year.

And with our companies' spending twice as much on health care as their foreign competitors, the cost of health care translates into less productivity, economy, and fewer jobs and less competitiveness.

Reform is a budget imperative because, unless we find a way to control the growth of health care costs, our country will plunge further and further into debt.

Families will plunge further into debt. Individuals will plunge further into debt. And reform is a moral imperative as well, because millions of Americans live without the security of health care that they can relay on and that can never be taken away from them.

The Speaker talked about choice, not putting anybody in between their doctor and themselves, but making sure that they can get to a hospital; making sure, in fact, that they can have the health care they need.

I say all the time, with respect to their health insurance program that they now have: if you've got it, you like it, you keep it -- a moral imperative to ensure that those who don't, however, have an option, have an opportunity to take care of themselves and their family.

Those are some of the reasons why we are so dedicated to solving this problem this year. Now is the time. This is our moment, as the President would say. And our resolve has been bolstered by the stories of ordinary Americans, some of whom are here with us today, who have seen our health care system, deep flaws, firsthand.

Phil Feaster is a friend of mine. I've known Phil Feaster for many, many years.

He's a constituent of mine. Lives in Fort Washington. Just down the road, not too far from here. He's one of those Americans who is facing challenges because of the limitations that he confronts and the health care challenges that he has.

He is with us today from Fort Washington, as I said, and he represents the affordable health care challenges.

One of the keys to our policy is affordability of quality health care for all Americans.

Affordability. So many of our seniors face this issue, specifically on what we call the Medicare Part D donut hole through which so many Americans are falling. It keeps them from getting affordable prescription drugs.

Phil, I'm pleased that you would join the Speaker and I and Mr. Larson and our whip, Mr. Clyburn, and your fellow citizens who are confronting problems every day. And we look forward to hearing from you. Phil Feaster of Maryland.

Phil Feaster. Thank you, Congressman.

Majority Leader Hoyer. Overwhelming applause, Phil, you know that.

Phil Feaster. I'm getting used to that. A little louder, though.

You have to excuse me from my little sinus condition, because that's one of my medical problems.

My name is Phil Feaster. Actually, it's Philip Feaster, and the only person to call me Philip was my mother. Everybody else called me Phil. My mother would call me Philip Allen when she was actually upset with me.

But, anyway, I'm a retired truck driver from Fort Washington, Maryland, and a member of the Alliance for Retired Americans. So this is not a fluke that's unique to just me. Let me tell you, the donut hole is no treat for seniors.

My generation likes to tell it like it is: The donut hole is a rip-off. You pay money, but get nothing in return.

Can you imagine going to a restaurant where all they give you is an empty plate, but they still force you to pay for a bill? Of course not.

For the first six months of the year, I pay $85 in monthly premiums. In exchange, I receive my Part D benefits for my eight daily medicines. But when I hit the donut hole, for the remaining six months of the year, I must pay for both my $85 monthly premium and the full price for my medicine.

These drugs cost me $700 per month when I'm forced into the donut hole. And, again, this is $700 per month on top of the $85 monthly premium I must pay for half of the year.

I'm forced to pay these premiums while receiving absolutely nothing in return. Why do I keep paying these premiums? Under the Medicare Part D rules, if I stop paying my premiums, I am out of the program for the next year.

The donut hole sure seems like a sweetheart deal for the big drug insurance companies. When I look around, my friends and neighbors in Prince Georges County, Maryland, I see so many of them struggling. Health care keeps costing more while medicine and private insurance keep covering less.

My mother was one of those people. She kept having to cut all the wrong corners with her health. She had a stroke and was paralyzed for the last four years of her life because she had to stretch her medicines too thin just to make ends meet. This is America -- the greatest country ever. Why do we still allow this to happen? I'm hopeful that this will finally be the year we fix our health care mess. We have been talking about this for decades. None of us are getting any younger. We need help, and we need help now.

I am grateful that this legislation will start closing the Part D donut hole and finally finish it off. This bill will help me and millions, like me, as soon as it becomes law. Let's make this the year that we finally reform health care, thank you.

Majority Whip Clyburn. Thank you, Phil, my neighbor to the north. I spent last week, Saturday, in Charleston; Monday of last week in Columbia. I joined with the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, AARP, and South Carolina Fair Share, holding two very widely attended town hall meetings. We heard stories from people that we're going to hear some of today. Today, we're joined by Diane Buch and her husband Joe Greear. They are both from Atlanta, Georgia.

Diane has epilepsy that she manages with medication. When her husband Joe lost his job, the search for affordable health care coverage became increasingly difficult.

They found a conversion policy for her and Joe, cost-prohibitive. They were denied individual policies. She is now forced to piece together medication and treatment.

For a hardworking couple in the wealthiest country in the world, this is unacceptable and undignified. That's why we need to reform the health care system now.

We will lower costs for consumers in a number of ways: ending co-pays and deductibles for preventive care; putting a cap on out-of-pocket expenses each year; and ending rate increases based on pre-existing conditions, gender, or occupation.

We will also restore sensibility and peace of mind, end the days when insurance companies effectively rationed your care, denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

That's just part of Diane's story. Let me present her, now, to tell you some of the rest.

Diane Buch. Hi, everybody. My name is Diane Buch, and I'm here today from Atlanta, Georgia. If there's, like, trembling in my voice, this is, like, a really emotional subject for me.

There's my husband, Joe Greear. We're both now experiencing firsthand the failings of our dysfunctional health care system. We're here today to show our support for his legislation and to encourage our elected leaders to make sure -- make our tough decisions -- make the tough decisions required to ensure that no Americans will be left without quality, affordable health care.

I have had epilepsy since I was 5 years old. It's really important that I have access to group health insurance because otherwise it becomes a pre-existing condition. I did have coverage through Joe's job, though when he lost his job last year, we found that due to the small size of his company, the only option I had was to continue coverage through a conversion policy. The price quoted was $2,400 a month. It was, you know, shocking.

Joe found an individual policy, but has had to raise the annual deductible from $2,500 to $5,000 just recently just to afford the rising premiums. After being denied coverage by three companies, I became uninsured on May 1, 2008. Since then, I've had to postpone some of my annual exams and opt against trying new and potentially more effective epilepsy medication, and also seek charity care from others to just maintain my current health status.

I have to say my medication was $900 a month, which -- well, that's another shocking fact. But anyway, the health care -- this health care reform bill will help us by getting rid of exclusions based on pre-existing conditions. It will set up an exchange where we can easily shop and compare plans and setting standard benefit options to plug holes in coverage that could leave us paying tens of thousands of dollars if we get sick.

This bill gives us a reliable option for coverage in the form of a public plan for health insurance companies -- if private health insurance companies fail to meet our needs as they have so far. Joe and I are average Americans. We have worked hard all our lives, and never thought that we would end up in this situation.

We hope that you will do everything that you can to protect people like us and all Americans from the stress and the trauma of losing their health care.

Thanks.

Caucus Chairman Larson. Average Americans like Diane and Joe and Phil and Tammy, who I am going to introduce, become extraordinary Americans when they speak up on behalf of their country and their fellow Americans who are enduring when all of them have had the opportunity to outline today.

Tammy is at ground zero. She's one of those small business owners. She owns a small coffee shop, Rostov's Coffee, and she employs nine employee people -- four full-time, five part-time. She works tirelessly and wants to do the right thing on behalf of her employees to make sure that they have health care benefits. But as a small employer, it is out of her reach even though she struggles to provide some of them the coverage that they need.

The President's Council on Economic Advisers informs us that employer spending for health care premiums will more than double to $885 billion by 2019. Premiums for health care plans will increase 20 percent in the next four years, resulting in 3.5 million American workers losing their jobs.

Because of rising costs, one in five employers will stop offering health care benefits in the next three to five years, which means 11 million Americans will lose their employer-sponsored health insurance by 2019.

You heard it here firsthand: A job and health care go hand in hand. They are synonymous in this economy.

Health care reform will not only give Tammy and her employees an opportunity to get quality, affordable health care insurance, it will keep small businesses like Tammy's coffee shop from being dragged down by the overwhelming costs of

Someone on the front lines for America, at ground zero, Tammy Rostov.

Tammy Rostov. Thank you, Chairman Larson.

As he said, I'm Tammy Rostov, and I own a coffee and tea shop in Richmond, Virginia. It's family owned. I have nine employees. And as a small owner, I know small business needs health care reform and we need it fast.

My dad, a single parent, started the business 30 years ago. I was raised in the store and I'm proud to continue the tradition of running the family business, serving our customers and providing jobs for the people in the community.

My father instilled in me the value of treating an employee like family. For me, that means making sure our employees and their families have important benefits. So we offer health care and retirement benefits.

Lately, this hasn't been easy. On health care, our commitment to our employees has run up against the harsh reality of ever-rising costs. About four years ago, when the premiums rose beyond what the business could afford, we had to change to a high-deductible plan so that I could continue to offer benefits.

That cut our costs for that year, but over the last four years our premiums have gone up 80 percent, and I can't afford to pay those premiums.

Our health care system is failing small business. It's failing business owners like myself. It's failing our employees. It's failing our families. And it's threatening our bottom line.

That's why I want to thank these leaders in Congress for introducing this critical legislation. This proposal brings new hope for small business struggling with health care. It will help small business by giving us new choices, giving us new bargaining power with the insurance companies, increasing transparency, so we know what we're getting, and promoting accountability, so we'll know that we can count on our health care.

This bill would help my business and my employees in a number of important ways. We would be eligible to purchase coverage in the health insurance exchange in the first year it is open, giving us more choices of better, more affordable coverage, including the option of a public health insurance plan.

Instead of spending more than 10 percent of my payroll in insurance coverage, I could save more than $11,000 by paying 2 percent and allow my employees to buy the coverage they want in the exchange.

At least two of my employees would qualify for affordability credits to help pay for their coverage, but these employees are like part of my family, and if I choose to continue to provide coverage for them through the exchange, my business will qualify for a tax credit half the cost of the coverage.

In closing, I want to make one final point: As a small business, the cost we truly can't afford in health care is the cost of doing nothing. We need health care reform. We need more choices. And we're willing to contribute our fair share. We're looking to Congress for leadership on this issue. Thank you.

Speaker Pelosi. Thank you Phil, Diane, and Tammy for your very eloquent presentations. Your presentations are more persuasive than anything we can say in terms of the provisions of the legislation, by speaking directly to why we need this health care reform and how it would affect you, very directly.

It's very exciting for us. This is why many of us have come to Congress and have been involved in public service to begin with. I'm very proud to be standing here with Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn, and John Larson and representing Democratic Leadership in the House to say that we hear what you are saying and we promise you that working with the President, we will have health care reform, and we will have it this year.

With that in mind, I will be pleased to take any questions you have. Any questions for our guests or the leadership?

Q: I had a question. Now that there are allegations that Vice President Cheney specifically told -- told the CIA not to inform Congress about certain terrorism programs...

Speaker Pelosi. If I just may interrupt you, I'll be pleased to answer that at the end, but we have -- and I will...

But let's just stick to the health care, because this is so big and transformational for our country. It's about the competitiveness of our businesses, of course, the security, the personal security of our families -- as Mr. Hoyer mentioned, in terms of the budget impacts of it, and our -- again, for these and many other reasons, we hope you'll have some questions on this subject, and then I'll get back to yours.

Q: Madam Speaker, can you talk about the discussions that you've had with Blue Dog Democrats? And certainly there have been other Democrats who are concerned about the package that has been put forward in draft form. How much have you met with them? And could you say to what -- how confident you are that you're going to be able to get them on board when you actually come to a vote?

Speaker Pelosi. Well, I'll invite my colleagues to join in on this, but welcome to the legislative process. In case you haven't noticed, this is how it works. We work together. I think we started our meetings months ago. The President had his summit -- health summit at the White House, sort of, launched the initiative, and then we've had meetings all along.

In the last few weeks, we've had listening sessions under the leadership of our distinguished whip, Mr. Clyburn. All along, the approach that we have taken, our communication among the chairmen and with the Members has been led by Mr. Hoyer, and our Democratic Caucus has provided us the forum, under the leadership of Mr. Larson and Mr. Becerra, to listen to the concerns of Members.

We've made a great deal of progress. I think we're on schedule. And the conversations have been very productive.

As you get toward the end, when you're ready to introduce, and then you go to the markup and the amendment process, is when you get some of the differentiation

But, from those conversations, I feel very confident that we will have strong health care reform that will lower costs, improve quality, give people more peace of mind that -- recognizing that, if you don't have your health, you don't have anything.

Mr. Hoyer, would you like to speak to that?

Majority Leader Hoyer. Well, I just want to make one comment, I think. I agree with what the Speaker said, but I don't think there is -- you mentioned Blue Dogs in particular -- I think, to a person, the Blue Dogs believe that we need to pass, and they want to support, health care reform.

They know their people want health care reform. As the Speaker indicated, in the legislative process, you get down to the specifics of the hows, not the objective. Then there are obviously extensive and spirited discussions.

Those are occurring now. But I am absolutely confident that there is nobody with whom I've talked in the Caucus who doesn't believe that health care reform is essential for us to do and do this year.

Q: Can you get support for a big tax increase that is going to be included in this bill?

Majority Leader Hoyer. Well, we're discussing, obviously, the specifics, and there are a number of pay-fors in both houses on the table, and we're going to be discussing those further. But I want to emphasize that every Democrat that I've talked to in our Caucus believes that doing health care reform is essential: A, we promised we would do so; and B, as I said, it's an economic and moral imperative. A healthier America is a more successful America.

Majority Whip Clyburn. If I may, we have had six listening sessions involving all of our Members, and we've done so by regions. And the reason we've done it this way is because I think all of us realized that so much about this legislation has to do with where you live, what state you live in, and exactly what you can expect out of this based upon that demographic.

So these listening sessions have brought all of our Members together, and I have been absolutely thrilled with the excitement that these Members have. Now, we all are concerned. I come from a relatively poor state, and a state that's going to be challenged with a lot of this, and we heard stories from other states as well.

But I think that where we are is we are in a pretty good place with all of this. Now, a part of what you call a massive tax increase will be mitigated somewhat by the type of savings that we put into the final product. And whether or not we can get this product in such a way that the savings that we realize can in fact be scored sufficiently to determine how much money you will need in the -- in the end product.

So that's what we've been doing in these listening sessions. And I'll tell you, we're much, much better off today than we were Thursday of last week.

Q: Mr. Clyburn, to that end, on that point, you're talking about the (inaudible) to offset some of these proposed tax increases. Doesn't that make it hard, though, when those on the other side that point to the figure, the 280 and 350, and the CBO cannot even score the (inaudible)? Doesn't that really make it hard (inaudible)?

Majority Whip Clyburn. Sure. We know this is going to be hard. President Obama said from day one this is going to be hard to do. But that doesn't mean we ought not do it. That's one thing I like about this Caucus. We like to go out and do the hard stuff.

Q: To follow up on the question about the Blue Dogs, are you definitely going to be introducing your bill tomorrow? And will it be something that the Blue Dogs can support? Because they said that they couldn't support the draft bill that's been out there.

Speaker Pelosi. Well, I don't know that they have some have. I have had people coming through my office all day speaking individually about, as Mr. Clyburn said, their particular situation. It is our goal to have a health care reform that will lower costs. This is essential to doing this. It will lower costs. It will lower costs for the individual, for the business, for the economy, for the government. Reduce our deficit.

We are going to have health care reform that works. This is very important. That's why the listening sessions. That's why I think a record number of Mr. Larson's Caucus meetings on this subject. There's been a great deal of communication among Members and from all different regions of the country on this subject.

So it is our plan to introduce our legislation tomorrow. It won't be the finished product. It is a mark that is to be marked up in committee to go to the next step. But in order for us to be on schedule, we have to roll out our legislation this week.

It's all in fairness to the Republicans as well, because as soon as we have a mark, then they can make their comments about something that is on the table.

But it is -- you know, it's just the beginning, because then we have three different committees working their will on it in the House. And then we have to deal with the Senate.

But it is pretty exciting to see the enthusiasm and the knowledge of our Members -- from all sectors. And I would associate myself with what Mr. Hoyer said. In all of our meetings, we have been assured over and over again that the recognition that we must have health care reform is universal and our Caucus across the board, and that we're trying to find a way to make it work -- in the best way for all of the regions in our country.

It's pretty exciting, and we'll be meeting with the President -- Mr. Hoyer and I -- later in the day, to talk about some of the other issues. But this -- I mentioned this in a previous presentation. We're trying to squeeze all the savings that we can out of this system first. And, rightfully so, many Members in our Caucus, including Blue Dogs, wants us to do that, and we share that view.

There are other provisions that they want to address, that we have in common. So this is not anything that is different from where we're going. It's just more so.

Q: (Inaudible) some Senate Democrats have said they're taking a different approach. Is there some flexibility from House (inaudible) in paying for this bill? (inaudible) some flexibility from the President...

Speaker Pelosi. Well, Mr. Rangel put forth and Mr. Larson can probably speak to this because he's the one in that committee, but let me just say -- and bring him on -- that, that was the work -- the committee worked all day Friday; met in the morning with some of the Members. And then met about how to have a surcharge -- a surcharge at the high end so that middle-income people in our country are not touched by the pay-fors for this. I said, this is about the middle class in our country. Lower their cost; improve their quality; expand their coverage, and do so in a way that gives them peace of mind. So a middle-income family that has a pre-existing condition in the family, or is changing jobs -- needs portability, or loses a job and does not lose health care. This is about them.

And in terms of the pay-fors, to the extent that we can squeeze more out of the system for savings reduces the need for the pay-for, but it will be at the high end and not touch the middle class.

Mr. Larson, a member of the Ways and Means Committee.

Caucus Chairman Larson. Well, let me say a couple of things with respect to that. The Speaker mentioned "squeezing out." Wouldn't it be great if we were joined by our colleagues on the other side of the aisle in understanding what the private sector has said to us ad infinitum about the cost that is there?

We know from the President's summit that no matter what the industry is, whether it's PhRMA, whether it's hospitals, whether it's doctors, whether it's insurance industry, that there are costs in our system that as we have said today rise by 2019 to levels that are unaffordable, that will be 20 percent of our gross domestic product.

So let us wean out those costs. We know, for example, that CBO will not be able to score some of these obvious savings that will result. And people in Connecticut familiar with insurance will tell you that with respect to insurance IT, there are billions of more dollars that can be weaned out of the system.

But this is a moment we have been waiting for since Harry Truman, through even Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and now the moment is right because of these citizens that we have here in front of us today, and because Americans -- 47 million who have no coverage -- are desiring that Congress act.

The Speaker said it. It's a mark. It's a mark, but it's an important mark in history that will allow us to move forward, working with our President to make sure that we fulfill the promise and the dream of all Americans.

Majority Leader Hoyer. Can I just say -- I want to add something to that. I think that was the last question, but I want to add something to what John said.

The fact that there are 47 million Americans without insurance is a critical concern to all Americans. Why? Because all Americans are paying for that. All Americans are paying somewhere between $750 and $1,100 extra on your premium that you mentioned -- extra on their premium because those folks are not paying and are not involved in the system; are not getting prevention; are not getting wellness care, so they're more expensive.

But the object of this legislation is to bring health care costs down. Yes, we want access for all Americans, but we want to bring health care costs down for the families who are represented here today. And the reason we want to bring health care costs down for families that are represented here today is so they can be healthier; so they don't have to make choices that will damage their health and which will make it more expensive for all the rest of us.

And, as I said, from a moral perspective, it is right that we make sure that every American can take care of their health care concerns.

So that, yes, there are 47 million Americans uninsured, but as critically, there are 260 million Americans who feel pretty good about what they now have, but are very worried about losing it because they won't be able to afford it.

We have a system that is almost twice as expensive as any other in the world. That's what this legislation attempts to do, bring costs down for the country, for all

This is a critical time to accomplish that objective, and we intend to do so.

Speaker Pelosi. Let me just say that today the President appointed a new surgeon general, Dr. Regina Benjamin, a leading spokesperson on public health issues. She established a rural health clinic in Alabama.

I mention this because we're very proud of that appointment. It's a very necessary one. It's also about prevention and wellness and about how our children are healthier. And a healthier America is the goal of all of this.

So I congratulate Dr. Regina Benjamin and thank the President for this important appointment.

Mind you, much of the prevention that will be part of this, and the wellness and the rest in the bill, will not be scored as positive because that's the way the CBO scores, but it will be those savings will be there, and that's why I think at the end of the day we don't -- the revenue that we may take in may be more used for deficit reduction than it will be to cover what the industry did not want to give up as we tried to squeeze out as many savings as possible.

I promised I would answer your question. It was about...

Q: (inaudible). Question about the CIA and former Vice President Cheney.

Speaker Pelosi. The information that you reference is information that was presented in a classified session of the Congress. I did not have that briefing. The Intelligence Committees did. I can't speak to that.

But I think that it behooves the committees to take whatever actions they believe are necessary to get more information on that subject as to whether the intelligence community was directed by the Vice President to create a program and intentionally withhold that information from Congress.

And further, if these same intelligence community were asked, "Is there anything else we should know?" whether they said yes or whether they said no.

Thank you all very much. And, again, let's thank Diane and Joe and Phil and Tammy for being with us today.

SOURCE Office of the Speaker of the House




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