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Obama Addresses Congress on Health-Care Reform
Repeating his belief that the approach provides needed competition for private companies, he pledged: "I will not back down on the basic principle that if Americans can't find affordable coverage, we will provide you with a choice."
But he pleaded with his "progressive friends" to remain open to other ideas that could accomplish the same goals. The impact of a public option "shouldn't be exaggerated -- by the left, the right or the media," he said. "It is only one part of my plan."
With the nation in the midst of a recession and two wars, many had counseled Obama to delay the battle over health care, an issue that bedeviled so many of his predecessors and proved to be treacherous politics for fellow Democrat Bill Clinton. But he argued that revamping the nation's $2.3 trillion care-delivery system is central to long-term economic solvency.
Public support for comprehensive health-care reform has dwindled over the past month as opponents dominated the headlines with talk of socialized medicine and accusations that the president was embarking on a "risky experiment" with the nation's medical care.
"Out of this blizzard of charges and counter-charges, confusion has reigned," Obama said.
He fought back against "bogus claims," saying the talk of "death panels" would be "laughable if it weren't so cynical and irresponsible. It is a lie, plain and simple."
Although he at times reached across the partisan divide -- at one point embracing an idea for high-risk insurance pools put forth by his presidential rival, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- Obama warned that he will not tolerate the strategy of "death by delay" articulated by some GOP strategists.
"I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill this plan than improve it," he said. "I will not stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent what's in the plan, we will call you out."
Despite efforts over the past several months to keep insurers at the bargaining table, the president castigated the industry for high executive salaries and practices such as "cherry-picking the healthiest individuals and trying to drop the sickest," "overcharging small businesses who have no leverage" and "jacking up rates."
America's Health Insurance Plans, a trade group, issued a statement afterward, saying the market reforms proposed by Obama and endorsed by the companies "will solve the problem."
Hours before the address, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) announced that he intends to push forward on a measure next week, regardless of whether he has GOP support. Obama said his plan includes one of the key ideas included in the Baucus blueprint, a proposal to tax insurance companies on high-priced policies.
Obama also said he now supports a requirement that all Americans carry insurance, a provision included in every reform bill.