- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2009

DEARBORN, MICH. (AP) - The White House on Thursday kicked off a series of regional health forums in Michigan by emphasizing that reforming health care is yet another way to help the nation’s struggling economy.

“We can’t afford not to reform our health care system now,” said Melody Barnes, President Barack Obama’s Domestic Policy Council director.

U.S. Rep. John Dingell, a Democrat who represents the area just south of Detroit where the forum was held, noted that health care reform is a matter of competitive necessity.

“We need it or we’re going to sink,” Dingell told the hundreds of people gathered at the Ford Conference and Convention Center. “Let’s get busy. Let’s do what needs to be done.”

The forum was moderated by Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle. Doctors, patients, insurers, policy experts and health care advocates were in the audience.

Doyle praised Obama for signing a bill that vastly increased the number of people covered by a health care program for children and said his state has added 100,000 people to its health care program in the past year.

But he said more needed to be done.

“There is an incredibly broad consensus that we need change,” he said.

Granholm, whose state has the nation’s highest unemployment rate at 11.6 percent, said far too many people have lost their health insurance along with their jobs. She said someone falls into bankruptcy every 30 seconds nationally because of health care costs.

“We can do this differently, folks. We can do this better,” she said.

A man in the audience said his small business struggles to provide health insurance for its workers. One emergency room doctor said he sees far too many people who have nowhere else to go for routine health care.

The two-hour forum kicked off with a video recorded by the president. Obama last week held a White House Forum on Health Reform, and has proposed putting aside hundreds of millions of dollars as a down payment on a more extensive health care system.

Thursday’s forum will be followed over the next several weeks by regional forums in Vermont, California, Iowa and North Carolina.

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