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President Obama opens conversation on coverage at White House health summit

CQ Transcriptions
Thursday, February 25, 2010; 5:14 PM

OBAMA: All right. What I'd like to do is this. It is now -- it is now quarter-to-four. I said we'd try to get out of here at 4:15. We have not spoken about coverage and we're going to need to wrap this up.

I know that some people may be on a tight schedule. I'm going to ask that people are willing to stay until 4:30, which gives us 45 minutes. And what I'd like to do is to round out this conversation by focusing on what I think is probably at the core, or one of the bigger philosophical disagreements between the parties in how we address health care moving forward. I think we've identified one already, which is the issue of insurance and minimum standards. And that was a debate surrounding the exchange. That was a debate that we discussed when it came to being able to buy insurance across interstate lines.

I think the second issue, which Eric Cantor alluded to earlier, John Boehner just alluded to, is the issue of coverage. And that is, can America, the wealthiest nation on Earth, do what every other advanced nation does, which is make sure that every person here can get adequate health care coverage whether they're young or old; whether they are rich or poor?

OBAMA: And, you know, I think that the effort in the House and the Senate has been to control costs, to reform the insurance industry, to deal with some of the structural deficit issues surrounding entitlements, and to do that all in a context in which everybody is getting a fair shake.

And right now, frankly, the 30 million people who don't have health insurance at all -- there are a whole bunch of people who aren't added to that list who -- all they have is a catastrophic plan. And again, they never go to visit a doctor unless they're really sick.

The way we tried to do it was not a government-run health care plan, Paul. I mean, that was, you know, some good poll-tested language that has been used quite a bit. But the fact of the matter is that, as Dick just alluded to, the way we've structured it through the exchange would be to allow people to pool, allow everybody to join a big group, and for people who can't afford it, to give them subsidies, including small businesses.

And so the question is whether there is a way for us to arrive at an agreement that would reach those people.

John, I -- Boehner -- I looked at your bill. I think, as I said, there's overlap on some issues. But when it comes to the coverage issue, the Congressional Budget Office says yours would potentially increase coverage for 3 million people, and the efforts of the House and the Senate would cover 30 million. So that's a 27 million-person difference.

We can have an honest disagreement as to whether we should try to give some help to those 27 million people don't have coverage. And so that's, I think, the last aspect of this. And this is probably going to be the most contentious, because, you know, there is no doubt that providing those tax credits to families and small businesses costs money. And we do raise revenues in order to pay for that.

And it may be that the other side just feels as if, you know what, it's just not worth us doing that.

But one of the things I hope we don't do is to pretend that somehow, for free, we're going to be able to get those 30 million people covered. We're not. You know, if we think it's important as a society to not leave people out, then we're going to have to figure out how to pay for it.

If we don't, then we should acknowledge that we're not going to do that. But what we shouldn't do is pretend that we're going to do it and that there's some magic wand to do it without paying for it.

So, with that, what I'm going to do is I will go to whoever you want first, Mitch.

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