THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Green Bay. (Applause.) It’s good to see you. Thank you. It is great to be back in Green Bay. (Applause.) We are hoping that both the Packers and the Bears do better this year. (Applause.) Come on, we can bring everybody together.
I want to make just a few acknowledgments; we’ve got some wonderful special guests here today. First of all, can everybody please give Laura a huge round of applause for sharing her story? (Applause.) I want to thank our hosts, Principal Brian Davis and his beautiful family, and Superintendent Gregg Maass, please gives them a big round of applause. (Applause.) Your outstanding governor, Jim Doyle, is here; give him a big round of applause. (Applause.) Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton is here, give Barbara a big round of applause. (Applause.) Congressman Steve Kagen is here, Congressman. (Applause.) Your own Mayor, Jim Schmitt. (Applause.) And Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is here as well. (Applause.)
I want to thank all the tribal leaders of Wisconsin who are with us here today. (Applause.) And they couldn’t be with us, but I want to acknowledge the great leadership that you’re getting in the United States Senate from Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, give them a big round of applause. (Applause.)
This is a town hall meeting, but if you don’t mind I want to make a few comments at the outset, sort of to frame the discussion, and then we’ll get to the fun part and you guys can bombard me with questions.
As I said, I want to thank Southwest High School for hosting us. (Applause.) I especially want to thank Laura for sharing her story. It takes courage to do that and it takes even more courage to battle a disease like cancer with such grace and determination, and I know her family is here and they’re working and fighting with her every inch of the way.
Laura’s story is incredibly moving. But sadly, it’s not unique. Every day in this country, more and more Americans are forced to worry about not just getting well, but whether they can afford to get well. Millions more wonder if they can afford the routine care necessary to stay well. Even for those who have health insurance, rising premiums are straining family budgets to the breaking point — premiums that have doubled over the last nine years, and have grown at a rate three times faster than wages. Let me repeat that: Health care premiums have gone up three times faster than wages have gone up. So desperately needed procedures and treatments are put off because the price is too high. And all it takes is a single illness to wipe out a lifetime of savings.
Now, employers aren’t faring any better. The cost of health care has helped leave big corporations like GM and Chrysler at a competitive disadvantage with their foreign counterparts. For small businesses, it’s even worse. One month, they’re forced to cut back on health care benefits. The next month, they’ve got to drop coverage. The month after that, they have no choice but to start laying off workers.