ABC News' Sunlen Miller reports:
Announcing his choice for US Surgeon General, President Obama today said Dr. Regina Benjamin has seen “in a very personal way” what is broken about the health care system.
The President went through Benjamin’s biography, describing how the Alabama family physician’s office was twice devastated by hurricanes, fires, and faced with sick unable to pay their bills.
“When people couldn't pay, she didn't charge them. When the clinic wasn't making money, she didn't take a salary for herself. When Hurricane George destroyed the clinic in 1998, she made house calls to all her patients while it was rebuilt. When Hurricane Katrina destroyed it again and left most of her town homeless, she mortgaged her house and maxed out her credit cards to rebuild that clinic for a second time. She tended to those who had been wounded in the storm. And when folks needed medicine, she asked the pharmacist to send the bill her way. And when Regina's clinic was about to open for the third time and a fire burned it to the ground before it could serve the first patient, well, you can guess what Dr. Benjamin did. With help from her community, she is rebuilding it again.”
Mr. Obama said that she represents “what’s best about health care in America” -- doctors who sacrifice for the sake of their patients, and said by comparison Congress only has to pass a bill to make a difference.
“Now we in Washington and across America have to refuse to give up on the goal of health care that is affordable and accessible for every one -- last one of us. We don't have to deal with hurricanes and we don't have to deal with floods and we don't have to deal with fires. All we have to do is pass a bill to make sure that the American people have a decent shot at getting the kind of choice and high quality health care that's affordable.”
Benjamin has been a relentless prompter of prevention and wellness programs – her own father died with diabetes and hypertension, her older brother died at age 44 of HIV-related illness, her mother died of lung cancer because as a young girl she wanted to smoke, and her uncle is facing a similar battle at home on oxygen.
“My family's not here with me today -- at least not in person -- because of preventable diseases,” Benjamin said.
The nominee, who will face Senate confirmation, said that she can be the “voice in the movement” to improve the nation’s health care system.
“It should not be this hard for doctors and other health care providers to care for their patients. It shouldn't be this expensive for Americans to get health care in this country,” Benjamin said, “as a nation we have reached a sobering realization: Our health care system simply cannot continue on the path that we're on.”