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President Obama on insurance coverage at White House health summit

CQ Transcriptions
Thursday, February 25, 2010; 1:21 PM

OBAMA: OK. I think this has actually been a very useful conversation. What I'm going to do is move on to the next topic, but maybe, after we break for lunch and come back, I want to go through some areas where we decided we agreed -- I know the abuse is a good example; some areas where we still disagree.

One thing, John, you shook your head when I said that people would be able to choose the better plan, because the notion was, well, people are mandated.

Actually, any insurance that you currently have would be grandfathered in so you could keep. And so you could decide not to get, in the exchange, the better plan. I could keep my Acme insurance, just a high-deductible catastrophic plan. I would not be required to get the better one. If I chose to get the better one, it would be 14 percent to 20 percent cheaper than if I were going into the individual market. I just want to clarify that.

BARRASSO (?): Well, Mr. President, if I could clarify, that's for a very limited period of time, number one.

Secondly, the incentives are set up so that employers would drop you from their coverage because it's cheaper for them to pay the fine than to continue to pay the insurance. So they wouldn't be able to keep what they have.

And third, there are still mandates in the legislation as to what you can do with what you have, such that it doesn't end up being the same coverage.

So with all due respect, I disagree. And it's just a fundamental disagreement between us. Does Washington know best about the coverage people should have? Or should people have that choice themselves, pay a little less, get a little less coverage, or pay a little more and get more coverage?

OBAMA: Can I just say that, at this point, any time the question is phrased as, "Does Washington know better," I think we're, kind of, tipping the scales a little bit there, since we all know that everybody is angry at Washington right now.

I think -- I think the -- so it's a -- it's a good way of framing -- it's a good talking point, but it doesn't actually answer the underlying question, which is do we want to make sure that people have a baseline of protection?

And this topic of the insurance market reforms, I think, is a good additional example of what may be philosophical differences but what we may have in common.

Rather than go through the problem, because I think everybody understands, out there, the issue of people with pre-existing conditions not being able to get insurance, people coming up with -- bumping up against lifetime caps and suddenly thinking, as a family I met in Colorado -- they thought their child was covered; suddenly they hit the lifetime cap and they started having to scramble to figure out how they pay the additional costs. We with all are familiar with these examples. I just want to go through areas where I think we agree on insurance reforms, or at least some Republicans and some Democrats agree.

I think we agree on the notion that you can't just drop somebody if they've already purchased coverage. Looking at your bill, John, the idea that you ban rescissions -- we agree on the idea of extending dependent coverage to a certain age.

OBAMA: Some people say up to 25, some people say up to 26, but we basically agree on that concept.

We agree on no annual or lifetime limits.

We agree philosophically that we want to end the prohibition on preexisting conditions. I think the thing we're going to have to talk about is how do you actually accomplish that. There may be a disagreement as to whether you can do that without making sure that everybody's covered, but that's something that we can talk about.

In addition, though, there are some other insurance reforms that have been proposed by the House and Senate in their legislation that I think we should explore, and maybe we can narrow the gaps there and come up with some -- even a longer list of areas that we agree on.

So, what I do is, since I want to make sure that Mitch doesn't give me a time clock tally again, let me first go to Mitch. And I don't know who wants to make the presentation with respect to insurance reform.

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