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White House Community Partnership Summit

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March 16, 2012
Columbus, OH

As many of you know, I have deep roots here in Ohio.  This morning, we were in Cincinnati where I grew up, and it’s always special to be back in Columbus where my father served as Governor. 

Some of you may also know that before my father became Governor, he was a Member of Congress representing what was then Ohio’s first congressional district.  He only served one term, from 1965 to 1967, but it was one of the most momentous sessions of Congress in American history.  In addition to landmark legislation like the Voting Rights Act and the law that created Head Start, he got to help write and pass Medicare and Medicaid. 

These programs represented the most ambitious health care agenda the nation had ever seen, and serve to this day as a promise to seniors and low-income Americans that they will always have access to the care they need.

I mention this history because I believe that the last three years have been the most transformative years for health policy since those days nearly 50 years ago.

Today, I want to briefly talk about a few highlights.

The first area where we’ve made huge strides is our fight against tobacco.  Today, tobacco remains the number one cause of preventable death in America, killing an estimated 443,000 Americans each year. And for every person who dies from tobacco use, two new young smokers start.  These aren’t just statistics, they’re our neighbors, friends, and family members. But when this Administration came into office, tobacco rates that had been falling were stalled.

So over the last three years, we’ve reenergized our efforts to reduce the burden of tobacco use.

We pushed wide-ranging legislation that, among many other things, made it harder for tobacco companies to market to kids and restricted tobacco companies from using misleading terms like “light” or “mild” on products and in marketing. That legislation had been debated for years, and we got it done.

As part of last year’s health care reform law, we gave Americans better access to counseling to help them quit smoking before they get sick.

And yesterday we launched our newest efforts to rid our communities of tobacco – a new ad campaign featuring some of the most moving and attention-grabbing stories ever seen in public media about the devastating health effects of smoking. 

Reducing tobacco use is one of the single best things we can do for our health and for our economy, and we’re finally regaining our momentum.

Another area where we’re making progress is childhood obesity.  Over the last few decades, this emerged as one of our biggest public health problems. And when we came into office, almost one in every three children was overweight or obese.  We had a whole generation of children who were at greater risk for a wide range of health problems but no national plan to deal with it.

So over the last 3 years, we’ve taken steps to make the health of our children a national priority.

The First Lady started her Let’s Move campaign, which has already recruited countless partners from Wal-Mart to restaurants to sports leagues to work towards the goal of ending childhood obesity in a generation.

We also passed legislation to put healthier food in school lunches.

And as part of the Affordable Care Act, we are working to make sure that restaurants put calorie information on their menus and make other nutrition information available so that parent’s know what their kids are eating.

Taken together, all of these efforts are allowing families, communities and the private and public sectors to team up and help our kids start living healthier lives.

A third area where we’ve seen new energy lead to real progress is in our work to make sure every child has access to care when and where they need it.

When President Obama took office, there were 8 million uninsured kids in America and we knew that 5 million of them were already eligible for coverage, but didn’t know it.

So, one of the President’s first steps in office was to sign the law reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program which rewards states that make it easier for kids to enroll.  Then, I issued a challenge. I asked states and communities around the country to go out, find these kids, and get them signed up.  And the results have been impressive, especially during tough economic times when we’d normally see more kids becoming uninsured. Instead, we have more kids with health insurance today than ever before. Ohio has been one of the leaders in this effort, repeatedly beating performance goals, covering more kids, and earning nearly $35 million for the state in the process.

The final example of how we’re taking a new approach to some long-standing challenges is something I’m sure you’ve heard plenty about – the Affordable Care Act.

But I think it’s important to take a moment and remind ourselves what the legislation has meant for Ohio in the two years since President Obama signed it into law.

Today, nearly 82,000 Ohio young adults who would have been uninsured, are covered under their parent’s health care plans, giving them the freedom to take the job of their choice, continue their education or go into business for themselves.

Ohio Medicare beneficiaries have saved nearly $95 million dollars on their prescription drugs – that’s an average of $512 back in the pockets of Ohio seniors for necessities like groceries or rent. At the same time, over 1.2 million people with Medicare in Ohio have used one of the free preventive services or free annual wellness visit thanks to the law.

These are just a few examples of how we’ve rejuvenated our federal response to some of this country’s most urgent public health challenges from tobacco use to childhood obesity. But what all of these efforts have in common is that they can’t succeed without you.

Good policy making may lay the ground-work for progress. But it takes hard work in communities and neighborhoods to make the most of those opportunities for the people who need them. And that’s exactly what you have been doing.

So when we passed historic legislation to help people quit smoking and stop kids from starting, one of the most promising signs of progress was that half the states and nearly 500 communities passed their own smoke free laws. We need you be advocates for this progress in your communities. And we need you to continue building the local smoking cessation programs that let neighbors help each other quit.

The same goes for childhood obesity. You’re the ones building local programs and partnerships between families, schools and community organizations. We need to do it community by community, each of us asking ourselves what we can do.

And the same approach applies to getting every uninsured child covered.  A lot of you work for community organizations, some of you work for schools or state and local agencies.  And, any of you who work with children or families, can make it a part of your job to help kids get signed up.

When it comes to the Affordable Care Act, your role is especially important.  The law’s new benefits and protections are already helping millions, but we still need your help to connect people to their new benefits.

There was recently an article in the Mississippi newspaper, the Clarion-Ledger, about a Jackson Mississippi woman who went to the doctor to have several tests including a colonoscopy and a mammogram. The bill came, and under the final balance it said “Zero.” She couldn’t believe it. But she said “I didn’t even know why it was free.”

Now, it’s great that this woman got the care she needed, but imagine the millions of others around the country who are putting off these tests because they think they can’t afford them. Imagine how many small businesses don’t know they can get a tax credit to help them offer health insurance to their employees.

Every person in this room is a leader in their community, and that means each of you can do a lot of good just by letting your friends, family and neighbors know that the care they need is within reach.

Coming up, we have a great opportunity to do exactly that with the 2-year anniversary of the health care law on March 23rd. We need to use that spotlight to bring as much attention to the law’s specific benefits as possible.

That’s why we’re launching a brand new campaign called “MyCare” that will tell the story of the Affordable Care Act through the people it is already helping around the country.  We launched the MyCare campaign today and the first story will go live on Monday at HealthCare.Gov/MyCare. 

As part of the campaign you can also share your own stories of how the law has helped you and you should tell anyone you know to do the same.

This is an exciting time for health care in our country.  Under President Obama, we’ve started on a path to improve the health of all Americans.  We have a lot to be proud of, but there’s a lot of work left to do.  Now we need to press down on the pedal and make sure we keep moving in the right direction.  Working together, I know we can.

Thank you.