TRANSCRIPT from the White House
REMARKS BY THE
AND HHS SECRETARY NOMINEE KATHLEEN SEBELIUS
March 2, 2009
12:57 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. Last week, I unveiled a
fiscal blueprint for America's future -- one that reflects the stark
reality of our financial crisis while laying a lasting foundation for
our common prosperity. It makes both the sacrifices and the
investments necessary to tackle the great challenges of our time --
challenges we face today as a consequence of decisions we deferred
yesterday. And one of these great challenges is health care.
The good news is that we have already done more to advance the cause of
health care reform in the last month than we have in the last
decade. We've provided and protected health insurance for 11
million children whose parents work full-time. We've invested in
preventive care to help keep people from having to go to the doctor in
the first place, and in electronic health records and new technology
that will ensure privacy while saving billions of dollars and countless
And today, I can announce that under the Recovery Plan we've put into
action, $155 million will go toward supporting 126 new health centers
across America. These health centers will expand access to care
by helping people in need -- many with no health insurance –- obtain
access to comprehensive primary and preventive health care
services. That helps relieve the burden on emergency rooms across
the country, which have become primary care clinics for too many who
lack coverage -- often at taxpayer expense. This action will
create thousands of new jobs, help provide health care to an estimated
750,000 low-income Americans across the country, and take another
important step toward affordable, accessible health care for all.
But our current economic crisis has only heightened the urgency of our
health care challenge. In the last eight years, premiums have
grown four times faster than wages. In each of these years, 1
million Americans have lost their health insurance. The crushing
cost of health care causes a bankruptcy in America every 30 seconds;
and by the end of this year, it could cause 1.5 million Americans to
lose their homes. It's a crisis punishing families, battering
businesses, squeezing our states, and increasingly, imperiling our own
budget. Health care is one of the fastest-growing expenses in the
federal budget, and it's one we simply cannot sustain.
That is why we cannot fail to act yet again. If we're going to
help families, save businesses, and improve the long-term economic
health of our nation, we must realizing [sic] that fixing what's wrong
with our health care system is no longer just a moral imperative, but a
fiscal imperative. Health care reform that reduces costs while
expanding coverage is no longer just a dream we hope to achieve -- it's
a necessity we have to achieve.
Today, I'm proud to announce key members of the team I'm assembling to
help do just that: Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius for my
Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Nancy Ann DeParle as
Director of the White House Office for Health Reform.
Now, there's no easy formula for fixing our health care system.
There will be many different opinions and ideas about how to achieve
this reform. And that's why I'm bringing together business and
labor, doctors and insurers, Democrats and Republicans, as well as
ordinary Americans from all walks of life to the White House this
Thursday for a historic health care forum.
What is required, however, is a commitment to reform that focuses not
on Democratic ideas or Republican ideas, but on ideas that work to rein
in costs, expand access, and improve the quality of health care for the
Kathleen Sebelius embodies such a commitment to bipartisan
accomplishment. She is, after all, the daughter of a Democratic
governor and the daughter-in-law of a Republican congressman.
But she's forged a reputation for bipartisan problem-solving in her own
right. As governor of Kansas, she inherited a billion-dollar
deficit, but by eliminating waste and inefficiency while making smart
choices, she balanced the state budget without raising taxes. And
time and again, on energy and education, jobs and health care, she's
bridged the partisan divide and worked with a Republican legislature to
get things done for the people of Kansas.
And that's why I'm so proud that one of the most esteemed political
leaders of our time, Bob Dole, is here, as well as my former colleague,
Pat Roberts, here as well -- people in Kansas, we stick together.
And I've got my own Kansas roots here, so I'm particularly pleased to
be joined by so many -- so many Kansans.
Now, Kathleen has all -- also knows health care inside and out.
She's won praise for her expertise from stakeholders across the
spectrum, from consumer groups to insurers. Over eight years as
state insurance commissioner, she refused campaign contributions from
insurance companies and protected the people of Kansas from increases
to their premiums by blocking a takeover of the state's largest
insurer. She helped draft a proposed national bill of rights for
patients and served as the president of the National Associate of
And as a governor she's been on the front lines of our health care
crisis. She has a deep knowledge of what the burden of crushing
costs does to our families and businesses. That's why she fought
to guarantee Kansans access -- access to quality, affordable health
care, and sought to secure it for every Kansas child from birth to age
Kathleen has a remarkable intellect, unquestioned integrity, and the
kind of pragmatic wisdom you'll tend to find in a Kansan. I know
she will bring some much-needed grace and good humor to Washington, and
she will be a tremendous asset to my Cabinet.
Now, as critical as the task of health care reform is, Governor
Sebelius will also oversee a department with wide-ranging
responsibilities essential to the well-being of the American
people. We rely on the Food and Drug Administration to ensure the
safety of our nation's food and drug supply. We depend on the
Center for Disease Control to make certain our nation is prepared for
pandemic disease outbreak or bioterrorism attacks. We expect the
National Institutes of Health to keep America at the forefront of
medical research, and work toward a cure for cancer in our time.
And for as long as I am President, these agencies will be led by
exceptional individuals who stand on the side of the American people;
who push politics aside in favor of proven science; who eschew stale
ideology for sound ideas and a focus on what works.
I'm also proud to announce that Kathleen will have an excellent partner
at the White House in Nancy, one of the nation's leading experts on
health care and regulatory issues. As commissioner of the
Department of Human Services in Tennessee, she saw firsthand our health
care system's impact on workers and families. In the Clinton
administration, she handled budget matters for federal health care
programs, and took on the tremendous task of managing Medicare and
Medicaid. I have absolute confidence in her ability to lead the
public and legislative effort to ensure quality, affordable health care
for every American.
Let me close by saying one last thing. I realize that there are
those who simply don't believe Washington can bring about this
change. And the odds are long. It's failed too many
times. There are too many special interests and entrenched
lobbyists invested in the status quo.
That's the conventional wisdom, and I understand those doubts.
But I also know this: I didn't come to Washington to take the
easy route, or to work for the powerful and the well-connected
interests who have run this city for too long. I came here to
work for the American people. I came here to deliver the sweeping
change that they demanded when they went to the polls in November.
Kathleen and Nancy share my resolve; I look forward to working with
them as we begin the urgent and immediate task of ensuring quality,
affordable health care for every American. And we also know that
we're going to need important partners there, so that's why I'm so
proud that we have the outstanding member of the House of
Representatives, Henry Waxman, and my own colleague and the head of the
finance committee, Max Baucus -- they have already shown extraordinary
leadership in this process.
The fact that we've got Democrats and Republicans here I hope is a
symbol of how we can move this issue forward. I don't think
anybody has a silver bullet when it comes to health care. There
are some difficult tradeoffs to be made, there are some difficult
choices to be made. But what I do know is this, that people of
goodwill collectively recognize that the path we're on is
unsustainable. It's going to be Kathleen's job and Nancy's job to
work with extraordinary leaders, like the ones on this stage, to make
sure that we finally deliver health care reform that will save our
federal budget and help American families for generations to come.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
GOVERNOR SEBELIUS: Well, Mr. President, thank you. The
President's request that I lead the department charged with protecting
the health of all Americans, and providing essential services to some
of our most vulnerable citizens, is a responsibility I could not
refuse. I'm deeply honored by your faith in me, Mr. President.
I've worked on health care issues for more than two decades -- as a
legislator, as an insurance commissioner, and as governor of the great
state of Kansas. Mr. President, I share your passion and personal
commitment to health care reform.
During the campaign, you talked about watching your mother spend her
final days battling for her insurance benefits -- a situation all too
familiar to too many Americans.
I spent time with the First Lady as she reached out to ordinary women
in cities and towns across America, who came together to share their
struggles and fears, and voice hope for a change in the health care
system that could save families from bankruptcy and deliver quality
care to all.
I share your belief that we can't fix the economy without fixing health
care. The work won't be easy, but bringing about real change
Business and labor leaders, teachers and health care providers,
policymakers at the state, local and national level, parents and
children are ready to join this effort. This isn't a partisan
challenge; it's an American challenge, and one that we can't afford to
This election was a vote for change, and nowhere is that change more
important than in reforming the health care system of America.
Nancy Ann DeParle and I have worked together in the past on health care
issues, and I look forward to having a great partner in the effort
Now, the decision to leave my job in Kansas as governor of the great
Sunflower State is not easy. But you, Mr. President, reminded me
it's possible to help Kansas and help the United States at the same
time. I can think of no great honor than to join you in this
effort to transform our health care system and improve the lives of all
Thank you for giving me this challenge.
THE PRESIDENT: Nancy, you want to say a little something?
MS. DePARLE: Yes. I'll just say that I'm really honored to
be asked by President Obama to be part of his team working to lower
costs and provide health care insurance and better quality to all
Americans, and especially excited to be working with Governor and now
Secretary-designate Sebelius. As she said, we enjoyed working
together earlier in both of our careers, and I think it will be a great
So, thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: All right.
Thank you, everybody. We're going to go get to work.