Obama Hosts Cyber Town Hall

Q Thank you, Mr. President. My name is Sergio Salmeron. I want to find out about health care. In a society, a lot of times we have to step back and ask ourselves if what we’re doing in principle, not in practice, is right. And so when we think about health care, I want to know from you if the things like preexisting conditions and preventive medicine, if they are a symptom of what’s going on in our health care system, then what is the problem and how do you address it?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’ll talk to you about preexisting conditions, because this is something that I talked about during the campaign; it’s something that touched on me personally.

My mother contracted ovarian cancer when she was 53, and she died six months later. It’s one of those cancers that typically is diagnosed very — at late stages; it’s hard to catch early.

She was at the time working as an independent contractor. She was working for an international assistance organization. And so she had insurance, but when she was diagnosed and the medical bills started mounting up, some of — this insurance company started saying that this is a preexisting condition, so maybe we don’t have to reimburse you. And we had to spend a bunch of time fighting with these insurance companies about this issue.

Now, eventually we were lucky we got these costs approved, because the point was she didn’t know, nobody had diagnosed it, and if you start having a — the standard of preexisting condition is you might have had that illness some time at some point before you — or you were genetically predisposed to it, potentially none of us would ever get any insurance.

So — but I still remember watching her — you know, she’s sick, she’s going through chemotherapy, and she’s on the phone arguing with insurance companies. And she’s lucky she had insurance. There are tons of people out there who, once they’ve had one heart attack, once they’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, once they’ve got some form of chronic illness, from that point forward it is almost impossible for them to get health insurance. And if their employer, especially if it’s a small employer, wants to give them health insurance, the costs are so prohibitive that they can’t do it even if the employer wants to help.

I mean, if Carlos has got a small business, if — I don’t know how many employees he has, but if he has 10 employees, 22 employees, and if one of them got a serious illness like leukemia, it would send his insurance rates skyrocketing to a point where he just couldn’t operate.

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