Good morning. Today I would like to talk to you about an urgent priority for our Nation: confronting the rising costs of health care.
In my State of the Union Address, I invited Democrats and Republicans in Congress to work with my Administration to reform our health care system. In the past few weeks, I've discussed my health care proposals with citizens across our country. Next week, I'll visit a hospital in Tennessee to hear directly from people who do not have access to basic, affordable health insurance. I'll also meet with a panel of experts at the White House to discuss how we can build a vibrant market where individuals can buy their own health insurance.
The problem with our current system is clear: health care costs are rising rapidly, more than twice as fast as wages. These rising costs are driving up the price of health insurance and making it harder for working families to afford coverage. These rising costs also make it harder for small businesses to offer health coverage to their employees. We must address these rising costs so that more Americans can afford basic private health insurance.
One of the most promising ways to make private coverage more affordable and accessible is to reform the tax code. Today, the tax code unfairly penalizes people who do not get health insurance through their job. If you buy health insurance on your own, you pay much more after taxes than if you get it through your job. I proposed to end this unfair bias in the tax code by creating a standard tax deduction for every American who has health insurance, whether they get it through their job or on their own.
For example, every family that has health insurance would get a $15,000 deduction on their taxes. This deduction would also apply to payroll taxes, so that even those who pay no income taxes would benefit. Americans deserve a level playing field. If you're self-employed, a farmer, a rancher, or an employee at a small business who buys health insurance on your own, you should get the same tax advantage as those who get their health insurance through their job at a big business.
At the same time, I proposed "Affordable Choices" grants to help states provide coverage for the uninsured. Governors across our country have put forward innovative ideas for health care reform. Under my proposal, states that make basic private health insurance available to all their citizens would receive Federal funds to help them provide this coverage to the poor and the sick. Next week, the Nation's governors will come to Washington to discuss challenges facing their states. I've asked my Secretary of Health and Human Services, Mike Leavitt, to meet with the governors and discuss ways we can work together to help reduce the number of uninsured Americans.
Reforming health care is a bipartisan priority. Earlier this week, I was pleased to receive a letter from 10 senators -- five Democrats and five Republicans -- who expressed their desire to work together on health care reform. I look forward to discussing our proposals and hearing more about their ideas. I appreciate the commitment of this bipartisan group to work with my Administration, and I will continue to reach across party lines to enact common-sense health care reforms.
From my conversations with Democrats and Republicans, it is clear both parties recognize that strengthening health care for all Americans is one of our most important responsibilities. I am confident that if we put politics aside, we can find practical ways to improve our private health care system, and help millions of Americans enjoy better care, new choices, and healthier lives.
Thank you for listening.