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Late healthcare activist Melanie Shouse tells her story

Death of an activist

We just received the following transcript (excerpted):


Office of the Press Secretary


For Immediate Release                                             February 4, 2010





Capital Hilton

Washington, D.C.

6:15 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: ….And, yes, we are going to keep fighting to fix a health system that too often works better for the insurance industry than it does for the American people.  (Applause.)  Now, I — you heard me at the State of the Union — I didn’t take this on because it was good politics.  I love how the pundits on these cable shows, they all announce, “Oh, boy, this was really tough politically for the President.”  Well, I’ve got my own pollsters, I know — (laughter) — I knew this was hard.  I knew seven Presidents had failed.  I knew seven Congresses hadn’t gotten it done.  You don’t think I got warnings, “Don’t try to take this on”?  I got those back in December of last year.

So, yes, we knew this was hard.  But I took it on because families were at the mercy of skyrocketing premiums, soaring out-of-pocket costs, insurance companies that routinely deny coverage because of preexisting conditions, or see their insurance dropped altogether because they get sick.

We took it on because costs were closing small businesses.  They were keeping larger ones from competing on a level playing field.  They were eating into workers’ take-home pay.  They were canceling raises.  We took it on because it’s the single best way to bring down our deficits.  (Applause.)  By the way, nobody has disputed that.  When I was before the Republican caucus, it was very clear.  I said, look, you say you’re concerned about deficit reduction?  Nobody can dispute the fact that if we don’t tackle surging health care costs, that we can’t get control of our budget.  And by the way, the approach that we put forward would reduce our deficit by as much as a trillion dollars over the next two decades.

We took it on because every single day, 15,000 Americans join the tens of millions who don’t have health insurance — and every single year, 18,000 Americans die because of it.

I got a letter — I got a note today from one of my staff — they forwarded it to me — from a woman in St. Louis who had been part of our campaign, very active, who had passed away from breast cancer.  She didn’t have insurance.  She couldn’t afford it, so she had put off having the kind of exams that she needed.  And she had fought a tough battle for four years.  All through the campaign she was fighting it, but finally she succumbed to it.  And she insisted she’s going to be buried in an Obama t-shirt.  (Laughter.)

But think about this:  She was fighting that whole time not just to get me elected, not even to get herself health insurance, but because she understood that there were others coming behind her who were going to find themselves in the same situation and she didn’t want somebody else going through that same thing.  (Applause.)  How can I say to her, “You know what?  We’re giving up”?  How can I say to her family, “This is too hard”?  How can Democrats on the Hill say, “This is politically too risky”?  How can Republicans on the Hill say, “We’re better off just blocking anything from happening”?

That can’t be the message that the American people are delivering.  Yes, they’re nervous, they’re anxious, they’re in a tough time right now.  The thing they want most are jobs.  They really don’t like the process in Washington, the sausage-making.  That part I understand.  But I know that they don’t — but I know they don’t want to just offer nothing to the millions of people in America who are in the situation that that woman was in.  That’s what we campaigned on.  And we are going to keep on working to get it done — with Democrats and I hope with Republicans and everybody else in between — to bring down costs, to end the worst practices of the insurance industry, to finally give every American the chance to choose quality, affordable health care.  We are going to keep on working to get it done.  (Applause.)

AUDIENCE:  Yes we can!  Yes we can!  Yes we can!

THE PRESIDENT:  I am not going to walk away from these fights.  And I know you won’t — because you didn’t before.  You didn’t when folks were slamming doors in your faces — “Barama who?”  (Laughter.)  You didn’t quit when you heard voices saying we should scale back and throttle down and accept less.  You remember that.  When folks were saying our sights were set too high; that our faith in this country was misplaced; that our hope was naïve; that you couldn’t change Washington; that you had to accommodate yourself to the political realities.  You’ve all heard that.  You didn’t listen to those voices then — your voice proved them wrong.  You proved that nothing can withstand the power of millions of voices that are calling for change….

[emphasis added]