Obama Praises San Francisco Health Care Program

Written by Luke Thomas. Posted in News, Politics

Published on February 20, 2009 with 4 Comments

President Barack Obama today praised the City of San Francisco
for providing universal health care coverage to uninsured residents,
an effort spearheaded by then Supervisor Tom Ammiano
and supported by Mayor Gavin Newsom.
File photo by Luke Thomas

By Luke Thomas

February 20, 2009

Mayor Gavin Newsom received a boost in his gubernatorial bid earlier today when President Barack Obama praised the City of San Francisco for its efforts to provide health care to uninsured residents.

“Instead of just talking about health care, mayors like Gavin Newsom in San Francisco have been ensuring that those in need receive it,” Obama said during a meeting with 60 US mayors at the White House.

Dubbed “Healthy San Francisco,” the universal health care program was initiated by then Supervisor Tom Ammiano in 2004 who was re-elected in large part on his campaign promise to address universal health care coverage at the local level. Newsom later added his support, helping to drive a compromise agreement between business and labor groups.

As many as 25,000 San Francisco residents have so far enrolled in Healthy San Francisco since the program’s roll out in 2007.

Following the success of Healthy San Francisco, Newsom last year added his support to state and federal single-payer legislative efforts to solve the US health care crisis. As many as 50 million Americans cannot afford private medical insurance, or are denied profit-driven health insurance due to pre-existing medical conditions.

The National Insurance Act, HR 676, was first introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) in February 2005, co-sponsored by seventy-eight members of Congress. The single-payer health care legislation would “create a publicly financed, privately delivered health care system that improves and expands on the existing Medicare program to all U.S. residents,” according to the bill’s summary.

The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not provide its citizenry access to universal health care.

Conyers’ legislation gathered dust while former President George W. Bush held the presidency and wielded veto power. Following President Obama’s inauguration in January, Conyers reintroduced the bill.

No word yet on whether Obama supports Conyers’ legislation, but the legislation is expected to go to a floor vote after being vetted through several house committees.

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Remarks by the President and the Vice President at Meeting with Nation’s Mayors

East Room

10:36 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, everybody. Thank you. Please have a seat. Thank you so much. Whenever I have the opportunity to meet with mayors, I think about how I got my start doing what you do each day: working with folks at the local level and doing our best to make a real impact on the lives of ordinary Americans. And that’s just another reason why I’m so happy to welcome all of you here today.

I want to offer — take a little personal prerogative here and welcome my own hometown mayor — my friend, Rich Daley. (Applause.) His steady leadership has proven again and again that the American city can be a place of boundless opportunity and a source of solutions to our public problems; he has made a deep and lasting difference in the quality of life for millions of Chicagoans. I’m surprised he’s still talking to me because I stole Arne Duncan from him — (laughter) — but I am confident that he will continue to make great strides.

I see friends from all over the place; some old friends — not old in years, but people who I’ve known a long time. My other hometown mayor, Mufi, it’s great to see you all the way from Honolulu. I’ve got Mayor Riley and others who are in attendance; Shirley Franklin doing great work; and Mayor Villaraigosa and Mayor Dellums from — we’ve got the California contingent. So I’m grateful to all of you.

And I think all of you understand that we meet at such an urgent time. Last night, I signed an executive order establishing the White House Office of Urban Affairs. (Applause.) I’ve chosen Adolfo Carrión to be its first director. Adolfo wrote a real success story in the Bronx as borough president, and now he’s going to be working with all of you to write our next success stories in cities across the country.

He’s going to be responsible for coordinating all federal urban programs, and I’ve asked him to set up an advisory council with mayors and other urban leaders so that we can develop a new metropolitan strategy based on the lessons you’ve learned. Now, rebuilding our economies and renewing our cities is going to require a true partnership between mayors and the White House, and that partnership has to begin right now.

Those of you who have traveled great distances to be here come from different parties and philosophies. You govern very different cities, they’re made up of different citizenries with different demographic makeups. But today, in the face of our common challenges, you’re all hearing the same stories. I know because I’m getting letters from constituents all across the country, in many of your cities.

But you’re on the front lines in our communities. You know what happens when folks get laid off, or they lose their homes or their health care, and they turn to the mayor’s office for help. And just as your services stretch, your classrooms get crowded, and your streets grow less safe, your budgets shrink. You can’t deficit spend, so you face impossible choices: raising taxes; cutting essential services; laying off teachers, firefighters, police officers.

And that’s why the recovery plan we put into action this week is so important. It’s a plan that will save or create 3.5 million jobs over the next two years; will help those hardest hit by our economic crisis; it will aid state and local governments in hopes you can avoid those excruciating choices.

It provides greater unemployment insurance for nearly 18 million Americans, and protects health care for 7 million who lost their health care along with their jobs. It includes the most progressive tax cuts in our history, spurring job creation and putting money into the pockets of 95 percent of all hardworking families. It invests in what works for our cities by funding programs like the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant and the COPS program, which boost public safety and bring down crime. It rewards responsibility, making sure that if you work hard, you won’t have to raise a child below the poverty line.

But what makes this recovery plan so important isn’t just the jobs it will create or the immediate help it provides; it’s that we are putting Americans to work doing the work America needs done in critical areas that have been neglected for too long. (Applause.) So this plan does more to lay a new foundation for our cities’ growth and opportunity than anything Washington has done in generations — and it will bring real and lasting change for generations to come.

Because we know we can’t build our economic future on the transportation and information networks of the past, we’re remaking our cities with the largest new investment in our nation’s infrastructure since Eisenhower built an Interstate Highway System in the 1950s. Ray LaHood is going to be busy because we’re putting 400,000 men and women to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and our bridges, repairing our faulty dams and levees, replacing our aging water and sewer pipes, and rolling out broadband lines to nearly every community in America. (Applause.) We’re going to unleash the potential of all our regions by connecting them with world-class transit systems and high-speed rail, making our metropolitan areas more livable and sustainable in the process.

Because we know education is the single best bet we can make to change the odds of our children and our cities, we are making the largest investment in education in our nation’s history. It will prevent harmful education cuts and save jobs of tens of thousands of teachers — 14,000 just in New York City. And it will make a historic investment in early childhood education and upgrade classrooms and libraries and labs across America, so that millions of our children are prepared to compete in the 21st century.

Because we know that spiraling health care costs are crushing families and businesses alike, and straining budgets across government, we’re taking the most meaningful steps in years to modernize our health care system. We’re going to computerize America’s medical records while maintaining rigorous privacy standards, saving billions of dollars and countless lives. We’ll focus on prevention, keeping millions of Americans from having to set in the doctor’s office in the first place. Taken together with the earlier enactment this month of long-delayed laws to extend health care to millions more children of working families, we’ve done more in 30 days to advance the cause of health care reform than this country has done in a decade. (Applause.)

And because we know we can’t power America’s future on energy that’s controlled by foreign dictators, we’re making an investment that within three years will double the renewable energy output it’s taken us 35 years to reach. (Applause.) We’ll provide tax credits and loan guarantees to companies that create this energy, allowing them to expand rather than lay people off. We’ll fund the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant you conceived, saving our cities and our consumers money. (Applause.)

We’ll build a bigger, better, smarter electricity grid that delivers clean energy from communities that produce it to the cities that need it.

So these are the steps we’re taking to help you turn this crisis into opportunity and bring our cities into the future. Now, Washington can’t solve all the problems facing our cities — and I know you don’t expect us to. Instead of waiting for Washington, many of you have already made our cities laboratories of change, coming up with innovative new ways to solve the problems of our time.

One of the great pleasures of running for President was having a chance to see great work on renewable energy in Des Moines or, you know, seeing what kinds of wonderful companies are being created in Seattle, and hearing about some of the urban planning strategies that are taking place in Charleston. So all of you have already taken the ball and run with it, even when you weren’t getting help from here. But it won’t be bad to get some help because — (applause.)

You know, instead of debating the existence of climate change, mayors like Greg Nickels in Seattle are leading efforts to make cities greener and more efficient. Instead of just talking about health care, mayors like Gavin Newsom in San Francisco have been ensuring that those in need receive it. Instead of wringing your hands over poverty, you’ve got Antonio in Los Angeles making relentless efforts to alleviate it.

You shouldn’t have to succeed, though, despite Washington; you should be succeeding with a hand from Washington, and that’s what you’re going to get now. (Applause.)

Now, what is required in return, what I will need from all of you, is unprecedented responsibility and accountability on all of our parts. The American people are watching. They need this plan to work. They expect to see the money that they’ve earned, that they’ve worked so hard to earn, spent in its intended purposes without waste, without inefficiency, without fraud.

And that’s why I’m assigning a team of managers to ensure that every dollar is spent wisely. And that’s why we’ve created recovery.gov — so that every American can go online to see how their money is spent, and hold their federal, state, and local officials to the highest standards they expect.

So I want to be clear about this: We cannot tolerate business as usual — not in Washington, not in our state capitols, not in America’s cities and towns. We will use the new tools that the recovery act gives us to watch the taxpayers’ money with more rigor and transparency than ever. (Applause.) If a federal agency proposes a project that will waste that
money, I will not hesitate to call them out on it and put a stop to it.

And I want everybody here to be on notice that if a local government does the same, I will call them out on it and use the full power of my office and our administration to stop it. We have asked for the unprecedented trust of the American people to deal boldly with the greatest economic crisis we’ve seen in decades and the privilege of investing unprecedented amounts of their hard-earned money to address this crisis. And with that comes unprecedented obligations to spend that money wisely — free from politics and free from personal agendas.

On this, I will not compromise or tolerate any shortcuts. The American people are looking to us, each of you, as well as myself and Joe and others in our administration, for leadership, and it’s up to us to reward their faith.

Now, this plan doesn’t mark the end of what we’ll do together. It marks the beginning. My administration has outlined plans to stabilize, repair and reform our banking system, to get credit flowing to families and businesses, to stem the spread of foreclosures and keep families in their homes. Together, we will tackle the urban challenges of our time and foster diverse, creative and imaginative economies that bring opportunity to every corner of our cities.

We’ll do all this because despite the different backgrounds of the mayors in this room, we all share the same vision for our cities — vibrant places that provide our children with every chance to learn and to grow, that allow our businesses and workers the best opportunity to innovate and succeed, that let our older Americans live out their best years in the midst of all that metropolitan life can offer.

I know this change is possible. I know because I saw it in all those years ago in neighborhoods on the South Side of Chicago, where ordinary Americans came together and worked alongside the mayor’s office to forge a better future. I know because I’ve seen it in cities across this country, where many of you that I had a chance to meet with, I saw how you focused on fresh ideas over stale ideology, and you moved your cities forward. And I know it because I see it in the faces of Americans everywhere who are ready to roll up their sleeves and join in the work of remaking this nation.

So now it falls to us to seize the possibilities of this moment and convert peril into promise; see to it that our cities and our people emerge from this moment stronger than they were before. Starting today, that’s what you and I are going to do — together. And I’m absolutely confident that our people will benefit and people will look back and say that this was a turning point; this was a moment where, in the midst of great crisis, leadership was shown and we created a new platform for success for all Americans in the future.

Thank you so much, everybody. Appreciate it. (applause).

Luke Thomas

Luke Thomas is a former software developer and computer consultant who proudly hails from London, England. In 2001, Thomas took a yearlong sabbatical to travel and develop a photographic portfolio. Upon his return to the US, Thomas studied photojournalism to pursue a career in journalism. In 2004, Thomas worked for several neighborhood newspapers in San Francisco before accepting a partnership agreement with the SanFranciscoSentinel.com, a news website formerly covering local, state and national politics. In September 2006, Thomas launched FogCityJournal.com. The BBC, CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News, New York Times, Der Spiegel, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Magazine, 7x7, San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco Bay Guardian and the San Francisco Weekly, among other publications and news outlets, have published his work. Thomas is a member of the Freelance Unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, TNG-CWA Local 39521 and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.

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Comments for Obama Praises San Francisco Health Care Program are now closed.

    So much for change we can believe in. His embrace of Newsom demonstrates that he is as out of touch as all his predecessors and contemporaries. We all know that he did not support Tom’s efforts untill it became politically expedient to do so. It is his way of leading, from behind, and always with an eye on what might further fluff his political future fantasies.
    I wonder if Obama is aware of how he is padding his personal payroll while at the same time making massive cuts in Health and Human services and front line workers. If not, then he should. Little Lord Fauntleroy is no more than a self deluding, self aggrandising and self serving little twit,.

  2. Having been to Rome, I want more than “bread and circuses.”

    i.e. Thank You, Tom for your efforts on Healthy SF.

    Molte Grazie.

  3. A Healthy San Francisco is a beautiful idea– but may turn out to be a cruel joke with the massive budget cuts coming fast from all directions.

    What good is it if waiting lists are so long and services are non-existent?

    Is it true that mammograms are unavailable now at General Hospital? That’s what I heard today.

    I certainly hate being so cynical– but the dollars just don’t add up well enough to win our politicians anything but my contempt– and an “E” for effort.

    Yes there will be a chicken in every pot– at the end of the long chicken-in-every-pot line. Hope might get you there– or it may not. I do not think it will get everyone there.

    We need to tax those that put us in our current fiscal mess– and we need to build our health and social services before they become impossible to replace.

    We don’t need illusions. We need real solutions that include everyone in the City of St. Francis.

  4. “If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it’s free.”

    — P.J. O’Rourke