Remarks by John Kerry at Mercy Medical
December 14, 2003
Cedar Rapids, IA -
As Prepared for Delivery:
I'd like to thank the staff of Mercy Medical for inviting me here today. And I'd like to thank the nurses and other folks who just sat down with me to share their health care concerns and their health care hopes. Your words inspire me to keep fighting.
Seven months ago, I unveiled my health care plan at Mercy Medical in Des Moines. On that day, I vowed to fight for the day when affordable health care is a right, not a privilege, for every American. I vowed to fight for the 40 million uninsured Americans who have no coverage-including the nearly quarter of a million who live right here in Iowa. I vowed to fight for senior citizens forced to choose between their meals and their medicine. And I vowed to fight harder than any other candidate in this race for the millions and millions of Americans with and without health insurance who fear opening their medical bills. Americans who cannot afford their health care are the unheard majority in this debate. They're not silent, they've just been ignored. No more. I will be the President who makes their voices heard.
Since making that first vow, I have spent months traveling across Iowa and all over America trying to do just that. I've met with folks in homes and diners, listening to them on farms and the factory floor.
I met Myrtle Walck in Council Bluffs. Myrtle's worked all her life, but at 82-years-old she's not finished giving to her country. Myrtle volunteers at a local school each week, teaching kids how to read. And what has her country given her? A $400 monthly Social Security check that just barely covers her two daily prescriptions. I believe Myrtle Walck deserves someone on her side fighting for her.
I met Bob Anderson in Waterloo. Bob's a part of this so-called "jobless recovery" President Bush now brags about-he was laid off about ten months ago from Iowa Concrete. Now Bob's wife was just diagnosed with a chronic illness and their health insurance has run out. I believe Bob Anderson deserves someone on his side fighting for him.
And I met Virginia Noble in Des Moines. Virginia owns a sandwich shop right near my headquarters called Beggar's Banquet. Virginia wants to provide her 11 employees with health insurance, but with prices skyrocketing and premiums rising every day, she just can't afford it no matter how much she tries. I believe Virginia Noble deserves someone on her side fighting for her.
Everywhere I've been I've listened to the fears and the hopes of these people and countless others. They're all asking for world class health care at a price they can afford. And that's not too much to ask for. That's why I'm back at another Mercy Medical half a year later to let you know that this cause has never been more urgent and I have never been more determined on this issue. You all deserve to have someone on your side fighting for you-and with your help, this will be the last campaign where Democrats just talk about health care. This will be item number one I will submit to Congress. And we will get it done.
George Bush promised us action on health care when he ran for President. But every year he's been in office, your premiums have risen by double digits. Every year he's been in office, another million Americans have lost their health insurance. And this President hasn't lifted a finger to help. Who's he been fighting for instead? The big insurance companies and HMOs that line his campaign coffers-the same ones that have caused so much of the hurt in the first place. This President has given America a raw deal on health care and everyone in this room knows it. I'm going to roll back George Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy special interests so that we can pay for health care that Americans can afford.
In my first 100 days as President, I'll offer America a real deal on health care that starts with cutting costs and stopping skyrocketing premiums. Make no mistake, no one in this race will fight harder than I will to cover the uninsured and get to universal coverage. But there is more to the health care problem in America than covering the uninsured. The major reason Americans don't have coverage is they can't afford it. And it's not enough to get everyone covered if the whole country is still staggering under the weight of our medical bills.
Parents shouldn't have to worry about their checkbooks when their children need a check-up. I ask you to examine my health care plan. If you'd like to see it in full detail, you can get it at www.johnkerry.com. And when you examine it, I guarantee you you'll find it the most far-reaching plan to control costs and make health care affordable for all Americans.
The average health care cost per person in Iowa is about $4,000. Under my plan, you'll see real savings of up to $1,000 on that bill. That's $1,000 that can help buy groceries, pay the bills, and give your family a break.
Here's how we'll do it. Right now, only four out of every one thousand insurance claims deal with health care costs over $50,000. Insurance companies, however, end up spending a fifth of their expenses paying for these very few cases. If they're spending that much, you can bet everyone else's premiums are going to go up. Under my plan the government will pick up most of the tab for these expensive cases - and the premiums for middle-class families will go down.
We'll also cut the fraud and waste out of the health care system. It would be one thing if every dime of that $4,000 was being spent on making Americans healthier. It's not. A quarter of the money Americans spend on health care goes to non-medical costs like paying bills and handling paperwork. If we can have banks that use computers and technology to cut down transaction costs to just a penny, we can surely have a health care system that does the same. Our money should be going to health care, not filling out forms.
It's also time to give Americans a real prescription drug benefit under Medicare. Right here in Iowa, the price of prescription drugs has risen by over 10% in one year! Not surprisingly, the big drug companies just spent $139 million lobbying Congress so that they could get a Medicare reform bill. And guess what? They got $139 billion back in special interest giveaways. That's 1000% return on their investment. In this White House, you certainly get what you pay for-and more.
Iowa seniors can't afford prescription drugs as it is. The average Iowan has to buy 12 prescriptions a year-and now they're being stuck with a plan that leaves millions worse off by raising prices up to $200 more a month. Right here in Iowa, this bill means that 28,350 Iowans will lose their retiree health benefits, and 57,200 will pay more for prescription drugs. These aren't just numbers-they are our parents and our grandparents-the people who need care the most.
This bill is such a sham that the AARP had to resort to hiring actors for their TV ads. Real seniors know better, and real seniors are getting the shaft.
When I'm President, we'll make sure drug companies come clean about the money they spend influencing doctors and others. We'll close the loopholes that prevent more affordable prescriptions from making it to your pharmacy. We'll make sure that those without drug coverage aren't left out in the cold. And we'll be able to provide seniors with the real prescription drug coverage under Medicare that they've been waiting for too long. And I'll have a simple message for the drug company lobbyists and HMO executives whose campaign contributions buy them special favors from this White House: "Don't let the door hit you on your way out."
You know, this issue has become very personal to me. In the last two years, I've seen the health care system up close, its ups and its downs, inside and out. I've lost both my parents and just one year ago, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I stand before you 100% cured now, but I was lucky. As a U.S. Senator, I could get the best health care in the world. Most people aren't so lucky, and we need to change that. That's why my plan gives every American access to the same kind of health care that members of Congress give themselves. We will cover 96% of all Americans, and 99% of our children. Because your family's health care is just as important as any politicians' in Washington.
And we should not just improve American's health care, we need to improve American's health. America needs a President who will lead us to a new era of scientific and medical breakthroughs, who will help break down the barriers to discovery so that Americans can live longer, happier, and healthier lives. I will provide the resources and the funding our scientists need to make great strides in research and discover tomorrow's breakthroughs, and we will make sure that cutting edge medical advances benefit everyone, not just the few. Because you deserve the best health care America has to offer.
My friends, we cannot make health care affordable by tiptoeing around the edges - we need big ideas, bold leadership, and the courage to take on the special interests who will try to stop us.
But we do need a realistic plan. A plan that will work. And above all a president who is committed to this cause, who will bring the key players together, keep this issue in the national spotlight. A president who will never give in until we give America the change it needs so that - at long last - health care that is available and affordable - a right and not a privilege - for every American.
I will not add bureaucracy - I will slash it. I will not impair research and medical advancement - I will advance it. I will not stick Americans into a one-size-fits-all program - I will give them more options and more choices. But I will make sure every working American has health care they can afford. And together, we can bring the day where all Americans have access to the care they need and the health care they deserve.
Almost 100 years ago, Mercy Hospital was built as a small house on 3rd Ave and 6th St. It had room for only 15 beds, and it wasn't opened by powerful interests looking to turn a quick buck. It began when the Sisters of Mercy saw a need in Cedar Rapids and kept a vow that was part of their life-"to care for the poor and the sick."
It is time that caring for the sick becomes a vow that America keeps for real. This is what I promised at the beginning of this campaign-and I ask you to join me in this fight every day until we win. Let's get it done together. Thank you.