Good afternoon.

As I travelled across our country this past year, no stories moved me more than the stories of those families struggling to pay for health care. I listened to Marie Kostos, a working mother in Columbus, Ohio who had to quit work in order to get Medicaid coverage for her infant, who is stricken with spina bifida....To Mary Annie and Edward Davis, a New Hampshire couple who faced the terrible choice of having only enough money to buy the food they needed or the prescription drugs they had to have....And I listened to a group of coal miners in Beckley, West Virginia -- some of whom had worked the mines for more than 30 years but were at risk of losing their health benefits.

Their message to me -- and to the Congress -- was simple: it's time to make America's health care system make sense. It's time to bring costs under control -- so that every family can be secure in the thought that a medical emergency or a long illness will not mean bankruptcy. And it's time to bring quality coverage to every American -- to cut back on the paperwork and the excuses and make health care a right, not a privilege.

As a first step in responding to the demands of millions of Americans, today I am announcing the formation of the President's Task Force on National Health Care Reform. Although the issue is complex, the task force's mission is simple: to build on the work of the campaign and transition, to listen to all parties, and to prepare health care reform legislation that I will submit to Congress this spring.

The task force will be chaired by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and will include the Secretaries of Health and Human Services, Treasury, Defense, Veterans Affairs, Commerce, and Labor, as well as the director of the Office of Management and Budget and senior White House staff members.

I am grateful that Hillary has agreed to chair the task force -- and not only because it means she'll be sharing the heat. As many of you know, while I was Governor of Arkansas, Hillary chaired the Arkansas Education Standards Committee, which created public school accreditation standards that have since become a model for national reform. In 1984-85 Hillary served as my designee on the Southern Regional Task Force on Infant Mortality. She was the Chair of the Arkansas Rural Health Committee in 1979-80. And she has also served on the Board of the Arkansas Children's Hospital, where she helped establish Arkansas's first neo-natal unit.

I am certain that, in the coming months, the American people will learn -- as the people of Arkansas did -- just what a great First Lady they have.

Here in the White House, Hillary will work with my domestic policy advisor, Carol Rasco, my senior policy advisor, Ira Magaziner, and the head of my health care transition team, Judy Feder. I have asked all of them to be as inclusive as possible and, as part of that, we are inviting the American public to write us here at the White House with their suggestions. All suggestions should be sent to the Task Force on National Health Care Reform, The White House, Washington, D.C. 20510.

We will no doubt be criticized by some for undertaking something much too ambitious. But as I said in my inaugural address, we are going to have to make some tough choices. In the months ahead, powerful lobbies and special interests will attempt to derail our efforts. We may make those people angry, but we're determined to come up with the best possible solution for America.

I know -- as you know -- that we must reform our system. We're kidding ourselves if we think we can deal with the deficit unless health costs come down. If things don't change, American workers and exporters will remain one step behind in global competition. And most importantly, unless we do it now, American families will continue to face tremendous financial hardship. We must not delay.