September 22, 1993 – Lest you think the issue of getting adequate, affordable, comprehensive Health Care in America has been a recent issue in our Socio-Political culture, I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings but no; Affordable Health Care has been an issue for as long as anyone can remember, and attempts to do something about it have gone back as far as the Roosevelt Administration – Teddy Roosevelt, not Franklin. During 1906 in the midst of dramatic reforms in the areas of health and safety, Teddy Roosevelt had contemplated introducing a form of affordable Health Care – one which had been in the air since just after the Civil War. But for one reason or another, often political, the attempts at introducing some form of relevant Health Reform have either died in Congress or never got out of the idea stage. Or history just had another plan. In 1941, a plan was being readied in the Roosevelt White House (Franklin, not Teddy) to introduce a Health Care plan somewhat similar to Social Security, which was initially planned as an adjunct to Social Security in 1935, but was held off for reasons of timing. The 1941 plan was mentioned in a broadcast of Town Hall Meeting by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt – the broadcast was from December 4, 1941. Three days later, history intervened and the plan was tabled until after the War. But by then, FDR had died and the cause was to be taken up by his successor Harry Truman in 1946. And it has been an uphill fight ever since.
So when Bill Clinton presented his plan for Affordable Health Care, it has come from a long line of plans and obstacles, but was, by 1993 absolutely imperative. So on this day in 1993, President Clinton addressed a joint session of Congress to lay out his plan and ask for support.
President Clinton: “If Americans are to have the courage to change in a difficult time, we must first be secure in our most basic needs. Tonight I want to talk to you about the most critical thing we can do to build that security. This health care system of ours is badly broken, and it is time to fix it. Despite the dedication of literally millions of talented health care professionals, our health care is too uncertain and too expensive, too bureaucratic and too wasteful. It has too much fraud and too much greed.
At long last, after decades of false starts, we must make this our most urgent priority, giving every American health security, health care that can never be taken away, health care that is always there. That is what we must do tonight.
On this journey, as on all others of true consequence, there will be rough spots in the road and honest disagreements about how we should proceed. After all, this is a complicated issue. But every successful journey is guided by fixed stars. And if we can agree on some basic values and principles, we will reach this destination, and we will reach it together.
So tonight I want to talk to you about the principles that I believe must embody our efforts to reform America’s health care system: security, simplicity, savings, choice, quality, and responsibility.
When I launched our Nation on this journey to reform the health care system I knew we needed a talented navigator, someone with a rigorous mind, a steady compass, a caring heart. Luckily for me and for our Nation, I didn’t have to look very far.
Over the last 8 months, Hillary and those working with her have talked to literally thousands of Americans to understand the strengths and the frailties of this system of ours. They met with over 1,100 health care organizations. They talked with doctors and nurses, pharmacists and drug company representatives, hospital administrators, insurance company executives, and small and large businesses. They spoke with self-employed people. They talked with people who had insurance and people who didn’t. They talked with union members and older Americans and advocates for our children. The First Lady also consulted, as all of you know, extensively with governmental leaders in both parties in the States of our Nation and especially here on Capitol Hill. Hillary and the task force received and read over 700,000 letters from ordinary citizens. What they wrote and the bravery with which they told their stories is really what calls us all here tonight.
Every one of us knows someone who’s worked hard and played by the rules and still been hurt by this system that just doesn’t work for too many people. But I’d like to tell you about just one. Kerry Kennedy owns a small furniture store that employs seven people in Titusville, Florida. Like most small business owners, he’s poured his heart and soul, his sweat and blood into that business for years. But over the last several years, again like most small business owners, he’s seen his health care premiums skyrocket, even in years when no claims were made. And last year, he painfully discovered he could no longer afford to provide coverage for all his workers because his insurance company told him that two of his workers had become high risks because of their advanced age. The problem was that those two people were his mother and father, the people who founded the business and still work in the store.
This story speaks for millions of others. And from them we have learned a powerful truth. We have to preserve and strengthen what is right with the health care system, but we have got to fix what is wrong with it.
Now, we all know what’s right. We’re blessed with the best health care professionals on Earth, the finest health care institutions, the best medical research, the most sophisticated technology. My mother is a nurse. I grew up around hospitals. Doctors and nurses were the first professional people I ever knew or learned to look up to. They are what is right with this health care system. But we also know that we can no longer afford to continue to ignore what is wrong.
Millions of Americans are just a pink slip away from losing their health insurance and one serious illness away from losing all their savings. Millions more are locked into the jobs they have now just because they or someone in their family has once been sick and they have what is called the preexisting condition. And on any given day, over 37 million Americans, most of them working people and their little children, have no health insurance at all.
And in spite of all this, our medical bills are growing at over twice the rate of inflation, and the United States spends over a third more of its income on health care than any other nation on Earth. And the gap is growing, causing many of our companies in global competition severe disadvantage. There is no excuse for this kind of system. We know other people have done better. We know people in our own country are doing better. We have no excuse. My fellow Americans, we must fix this system, and it has to begin with congressional action.
I believe as strongly as I can say that we can reform the costliest and most wasteful system on the face of the Earth without enacting new broad-based taxes. I believe it because of the conversations I have had with thousands of health care professionals around the country, with people who are outside this city but are inside experts on the way this system works and wastes money.
The proposal that I describe tonight borrows many of the principles and ideas that have been embraced in plans introduced by both Republicans and Democrats in this Congress. For the first time in this century, leaders of both political parties have joined together around the principle of providing universal, comprehensive health care. It is a magic moment, and we must seize it.”
What has come to be known as Obamacare was the first time any sort of comprehensive Health Care legislation successfully made it through Congress in all its history. It was always considered Boilerplate; a foundation from which to build. It was never thought to be complete, but it was thought to be a start. Attempts to repeal it have become a mantra, an obsession for some, since it was passed it has been the object of scorn, ridicule and political wrangling – but nothing has been done to improved or add to the boilerplate.
As a reminder of one of the attempts at Affordable Health Care, here is President Clinton’s complete address to a joint session of Congress, September 22, 1993.