By BETSY TAYLOR
President Barack Obama thanks the Catholic health ministry for advocacy that he called essential to the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Obama spoke at the 2015 Catholic Health Assembly in Washington, D.C., telling CHA members it was an honor to join them on their “100th anniversary of bringing hope and healing to so many.”
Photo credit: Evelyn Hockstein/© CHA
WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Barack Obama told CHA's 2015 Catholic Health Assembly June 9 that five years after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, more than 16 million Americans have gained health insurance coverage, and as CHA celebrates its centennial he praised ministry members for their work to support health care reform.
"It couldn't have happened without you," he said.
"Without your commitment to compassionate care, without your moral force, we would not have succeeded," he said, drawing thunderous applause.
His roughly 25 minute address closed the assembly here, a ceremonial bookend before an enthusiastic crowd of roughly 1,100 senior leaders of the Catholic health care ministry celebrating a century of providing health care in the United States, advancing a shared mission of caring for the nation's poor and vulnerable.
"I'm here today to say thank you for your tireless efforts to make health reform a reality," Obama said to a packed ballroom at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park. He said health care reform, to him, had not been about making good on a campaign promise, rather it had been in pursuit of a goal to restore the opportunity for all working Americans to get ahead. The broken health care system needed reform to end needless suffering and death, and to restore the promise of America, he said. He told the Catholic health care executives and health care providers, "every day, you saw the very personal suffering of those who went without" access to health care.
Obama was introduced by Sr. Carol Keehan, DC, CHA's president and chief executive officer, who told the audience, "You know how long we have wanted and waited for a health care system that treats everyone with dignity." Many presidents had tried and failed to pass sweeping health care reform, but Obama succeeded. "He took the first step toward guaranteed health care for everyone in our great nation. Many people and groups worked hard for this outcome including so many of you in the audience today. The effort took leadership, creativity, perseverance — qualities the president demonstrated again and again."
President Barack Obama hugs former Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin, a past member of the CHA board, as he moves along the line of enthusiastic well-wishers following his speech at the Catholic Health Assembly.
Photo credit: Evelyn Hockstein/© CHA
The president said of Sr. Carol, "We would not have gotten the Affordable Care Act done had it not been for her. I want to thank the entire Catholic Health Association for the incredible work you do."
He said for every politician and pundit who said, "We should wait, why rush?" during the contentious debate over health reform, he heard from men and women around the nation so in need of insurance and access to health care they could afford that they "didn't have a moment left to lose."
Obama said the underlying question on health care reform is: "What kind of country do we want to be?" He said his answer is that in "the wealthiest, most powerful nation on Earth," health care should be a fundamental right, not a commodity available only to the highest bidder.
Nearly one in three Americans who didn't previously have health insurance coverage have gained it after five years of the Affordable Care Act, the president said. And the 85 percent of Americans who had had health insurance, now have a "better deal" with more coverage protections. The law strengthened Medicare, adding 13 years to its actuarial life, he said.
In answer to those who said the Affordable Care Act would be a job killer, Obama said that the nation has experienced 63 straight months of private sector job growth since its passage.
Obama said more work remains to reform health care, that more people still need to sign up for insurance, that legislatures in states that have not yet expanded Medicaid need to act to cover more vulnerable adults, that improvements must still be made to improve quality of care and to lower costs.
But, he said, health reform is working. "Nobody says our health care system is perfect, but it is serving so many more people so much better, and we are not going to go backwards. There is something, I have to say, that is just deeply cynical about the ceaseless, endless partisan attempts to roll back progress." It's time to move on, he said.
Obama said it is up to all citizens "to continue to make the right to health care a reality for all Americans.
"Is there any greater measure of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness than those simple pleasures that are afforded because you have good health and security?" he asked.
Obama's message resonates
Sr. Carol Keehan, DC
CHA president and chief executive
"We were truly honored that the president spoke at the Catholic Health Assembly, and very grateful that he focused his remarks on the human and moral rationale for improving health care and making the first big step for health care for everyone.
"And, also, we were very pleased to see how well the president's thoughts on the moral requirement for everyone to have health care resonate so closely with those of Pope Francis."
Dr. Brian D'Arcy
CHA board member; senior vice president of medical affairs for Catholic Health System of Buffalo, N.Y.
"What I was delighted to hear was the very gracious thanks and recognition the president gave to Catholic health as a moral guide for our nation for this generations-long advocacy issue and the recognition and appreciation he expressed for the centrality of the role of Catholic health and the Catholic Health Association over the past seven or eight years that have led to this outcome."
A member of Catholic Health Ministries; board chair of Trinity Health of Livonia, Mich.
"I loved what the president said about the fact that every human being is created in the image of God and that there must be dignity and justice for everyone.
"Health care is not just for the wealthy, it should be for everyone. That is in line with Catholic teaching and came across in the president's address."
Dr. Samuel Ross
Chief executive of Bon Secours Baltimore Health System of Baltimore
"We hear people ask: 'Are we better off as a result of the ACA?' And, the president answered that question today. He provided statistics and anecdotes that show we are better off. While acknowledging that it's not perfect, he showed that as a nation we are in a better position."
Vice president of Community Partnerships, St. Joseph Health Foundation, Irvine, Calif.
"It gives you a sense of energy and strength to continue, and that was the best part for me.
"There was just a sense of excitement in the room. It was special to be together in community with all these other Catholic health care leaders and advocates — to be there together and to experience it as a family. It was a great way to end the celebration — that's the way you end a party!"
Sr. Judith Ann Karam, CSA
CHA board chair; congregational leader, Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, Richfield, Ohio
"It was very evident to him the pivotal role that CHA played in getting the ACA passed.
"Also, I think that many of us in health care know that if we could ensure people have (health care) interventions earlier … that we have a pretty good chance of being able to reduce health care costs in the long term, and the president said that."
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