Bill Clinton Praises European Company for Not Profiting on Its Health Insurance Business

By Susan Jones | September 25, 2013 | 8:17am EDT

President Barack Obama, right, with former President Bill Clinton, left, speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

( - Former President Bill Clinton, speaking Tuesday at the annual meeting of of his Clinton Global Initiative in New York, praised a European insurance company for saying it pursues the "public good" instead of profit. "Can you imagine somebody saying that in America?" Clinton asked, prompting laughter.

And President Barack Obama, appearing with Clinton, asked if Americans "want to continue to live in a society where we've got the most inefficient health care system on Earth."

Clinton concluded the hour-long discussion of health care with a story about "one of the biggest insurance companies in Europe."

"And I asked the chairman of the company -- I said, do you run health insurance? Because in the Netherlands, there's no Medicare, no Medicaid, everybody's on a health -- on an individual mandate, and you just subsidize people based on their incomes.

"He said, 'Yeah, I write it (health insurance). We all do.' And he looked at me and he said, 'But we don't make any money on it.' And he said, 'We shouldn't.'

"This guy's running a huge -- can you imagine somebody saying that in America? (Laughter)  He said -- he said, 'We shouldn't. If I can't make money on this business doing traditional insurance business (other than health insurance), I've got no business to work.'

"He said, look, health care is a public good. And you've got to find a way to finance it for everybody." (Applause.)

"And he said, it's just an intermediary function that somebody has to handle. But in the end, it's how its delivered, how it's priced and how healthy you can keep your people."

Health insurance in the Netherlands is mandatory and subsidized through taxation.

Turning to Obama, Clinton mentioned that first lady Michelle Obama is "trying to keep us all healthier," while President Obama is "trying to improve the delivery and the pricing" of health insurance. "And you have to cover everybody to do it. I think this is a big step forward for America," Clinton said.

Clinton said Obamacare, over the next decade, will "not only make us healthier, but it will free up -- in the private sector, largely -- funds that can then be reinvested in other areas of economic growth and give us a much more well-balanced economy. But first, we got to get everybody to sign up."

'Most inefficient health care system on Earth'

President Obama, concluding his own defense of the Affordable Care Act, argued that "nothing is free."

"The bottom line," Obama said, "is do we want to continue to live in a society where we've got the most inefficient health care system on Earth, leaving millions of people exposed to the possibility that they could lose everything because they get sick, where we've got little children and families going to the emergency room once week because they got asthma and other preventable diseases because their families aren't linked up with a primary care physician who's providing them regular care, where the costs to society for reduced productivity, illnesses, et cetera, all burden our businesses -- is that the kind of society we aspire to? I think the answer is no.

'And the notion that we would resist, or at least some would resist as fiercely as they...have, make this their number-one agenda, is perpetuating a system in which millions of people across the country, hardworking Americans, don't have access to health care, I think is -- is wrong."

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