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Mt. Carmel Baptist Church Wednesday Night Prayer Service

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February 20, 2013
Philadelphia, PA


Good evening.  Thank you, Congressman Fattah, for that introduction.  I’m so pleased to be with you all.

In his State of the Union address last week, the President spoke about a fundamental belief that lies at the heart of America’s greatness.  It’s a belief that if you’re willing to work hard, you should be able to earn a decent living, provide for your family, and contribute to your community.  It’s a belief that when more people have the chance to pursue their dreams, it doesn’t just help them—it makes our whole country stronger.   It’s a belief that America does best when opportunity is widely available, not confined to an elite few.

Now, if you look back at human history, this hasn’t always been a common view.  And there have been times in our country’s history when we’ve struggled to live up to that belief.  But our greatest progress has always come at those moments when we’ve reached for that ideal, and joined together to lift up all Americans.

Tonight, I want to talk about an important part of turning that belief into a reality: making affordable health insurance available to every American.

Health insurance is more than just a card in your wallet.  It’s security.  It’s peace of mind.  It’s knowing you can get preventive care when you need it. 

It means that when your daughter wakes up with a fever, you don’t have to think twice about putting her in the car and driving to the hospital.  It means that when you feel a lump in your breast, you don’t have to lie awake at night hoping it goes away on its own.   It means not having to live with the burden of knowing that if you or a loved one gets sick, you could lose everything you’ve worked for. 

But despite how fundamental health insurance is to our basic security, about one in six Americans—around 48 million altogether—go without coverage every day.  And nearly two hundred thousand of them are right here in Philadelphia.

That’s why the President fought so hard for the Affordable Care Act, a law that will finally put affordable health insurance within the reach of millions more Americans beginning this October.

Now, he wasn’t the first president who sought to address the problem of unaffordable health care.  Every decade or so for the last century, a president would try to reform our health care system, only to see their hopes dashed by powerful interests aligned against change.  Over time, many came to believe that the security of health insurance was a luxury that would always be reserved for some and out of reach for others.

And when President Obama took office, every single one of those doubters came out of the woodwork.  They said ‘slow down,’ ‘let’s think smaller,’ ‘let’s put this off for another day.’

But there were others—including many in this church—who said: ‘no, we can’t slow down,’ who said ‘we’re tired of thinking small—we need to think big,’ who said ‘let’s travel the difficult road of progress, because we can’t wait another generation for affordable health care.’  And three years ago, at long last, your voices were heard.

Let me talk briefly about how this law will expand coverage for the uninsured.

Starting on October 1st, new Health Insurance Marketplaces will open for enrollment in every state.  These Marketplaces will give individuals, families, and small business owners a simple, convenient way to find coverage that fits their budget.  With a single application, people will be able to compare all your coverage options.  They’ll be protected from discrimination against pre-existing conditions.  And there will be tax credits that could save them money on their premiums right away.

And this doesn’t just benefit the uninsured.  When more people have health insurance, it creates a ripple effect that can be felt across an entire city.  Healthier communities are more likely to attract new businesses.  Their emergency rooms are less crowded.  Their workers are more productive.  And their schools are filled with healthy students who are ready to learn.

We have an enormous opportunity in the coming months, not only to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of uninsured Philadelphians, but also to improve the health and economic well-being of this city.

But here’s the key point—and if you leave here tonight remembering one thing, make it this—just because people have the opportunity to get affordable health insurance doesn’t mean they’ll actually get covered.  Just because we’ve opened the door to opportunity doesn’t mean that people will automatically walk through.

There are a lot of people out there who might not be paying attention to what’s happening with health insurance.  They’re thinking about finding a job, or taking care of their children, or enjoying a few hours of free time at the end of the day.  Too often, people don’t think about health coverage until something goes wrong.  And by then, it’s too late.

So if we’re going to make health insurance a reality for the millions of Americans who have gone without it for so long, we’re going to need your help to educate people.

About half of all uninsured adults today are young and healthy.  If you have children in their twenties like I do, you know that getting health insurance is not always the first priority for this demographic.  I don’t know what their first priority is, but it certainly isn’t insurance.

Those young people probably aren’t going to listen to me.  But they will listen to their parents.

There are people in this city—maybe even in this house of worship—who have spent so many years getting jerked around by insurance companies they’ve come to believe that affordable insurance will never be within reach.

They may not listen to people from Washington.  But they’ll listen to their neighbors.

There are uninsured Philadelphians in your neighborhoods with asthma or diabetes, who believe today that an insurance company will never offer them coverage.

I may not be here in Philadelphia in October to tell them the days of discrimination against pre-existing conditions will soon be over.  But you will. 

If we’re going to bring the security of health insurance to millions of Americans this fall, we will need your help to do it.  So what can you do?

The first thing is go to HealthCare.gov and sign up to receive updates about the new health insurance options that will be available this fall.  That way you’ll have all the information you need to educate yourself and your family and friends.

But we’re really going to need your help as we get closer to October 1st, when the new Marketplaces will open for enrollment.  I know that some of you were out there knocking on doors for the election not so long ago.  But I hope you’re resting up, because we’re going to need you to be out there again this fall helping to turn the possibilities created by the health care law into realities for the people of Philadelphia.

After all, Americans didn’t march for the right to vote just so they could stay home on election day.  Previous generations didn’t fight for equality in education just so their children could drop out of school.  And we didn’t expand access to affordable health care just so our neighbors could fail to sign up for coverage.

The debate in Washington is over.  The Supreme Court has issued its decision, the people have spoken, and the voices of progress won out.  Now, the mission has moved to Mantua, and Fishtown, and University City.  That’s where the work needs to happen.

Every one of us knows someone whose life could be changed by affordable health coverage.  And this fall, the opportunity for them to get that peace of mind will be here.  But it won’t happen unless you spread the word.

In the Gospels, it talks about how Jesus healed the sick and drove out disease.  The Book of Matthew describes how he told his disciples to go out into the towns and heal the sick, saying, “What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.”

Somewhere in Philadelphia today, there’s a young man with no insurance working at the barber shop, who doesn’t realize that one illness could take away everything he’s been working for.  There’s a single mom working two jobs, day and night, making just enough to pay the rent, but not enough for the coverage she needs to get the mammogram that could save her life.  There’s a family that is selling their home because they didn’t have health insurance, dad got hurt on the job, and now the medical bills are piling up.  These are your friends and neighbors.

We have the opportunity to change thousands lives over the next year and beyond.  But none of it will happen unless you help us spread the word about health coverage.  So speak it in the daylight; proclaim it from the roofs.  

And in doing so, we won’t just expand opportunity for those who need it most, we’ll also build a healthier, more prosperous Philadelphia, and a healthier, more prosperous America.

Thank you for your time, for your faith that we can heal this country, and for the work we’ll do together in the days ahead.