President Obama makes pitch for health-care reform

President Barack Obama traveled to the hometown of a cancer victim who wrote the president that she gave up her health insurance after the cost rose to $8,500 a year. Obama cited that letter to illustrate the urgency of the health care reform. (March 15)
By Peter Slevin and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 15, 2010; 5:02 PM

STRONGSVILLE, Ohio -- With a decisive vote on his health-care overhaul possible within days, President Obama declared repeatedly Monday that "we need courage" from elected leaders to pass the far-reaching package.

Making an impassioned pitch in a part of the country where unemployment runs high and insurance coverage is uncertain, Obama said in a speech at a senior center here, "I don't know about the politics, but I know what's the right thing to do."

Nearly shouting as the crowd cheered, he added: "And so I'm calling on Congress to pass these reforms -- and I'm going to sign them into law. I want some courage. I want us to do the right thing, Ohio. And with your help, we're going to make it happen."

Obama depicted a health-care system of rising costs and declining coverage, with millions of Americans unable to afford the premiums for quality care. He implored his audience to keep in mind, "There but for the grace of God go any one of us."

For his third campaign-style speech in eight days, Obama chose a Cleveland suburb that voted for Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), his Republican opponent, in 2008. His traveling party from Washington included liberal Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who has said he will vote against the health-care bill because it does not go far enough.

As Obama addressed more than 1,400 people in the Walter F. Ehrnfelt Recreation and Senior Center, the crowd often roared its approval. But he also heard catcalls of, "What's your plan?" and "Jobs!"

In Washington, the House Budget Committee voted Monday to advance the legislation toward a floor vote later this week. The panel approved a package of fixes to the overhaul by a vote of 21 to 16. Two Democrats sided with all 14 Republicans in voting against the plan.

Democratic leaders, meanwhile, continued their efforts to pull together enough votes to push the package through the House, as Republicans vowed to keep fighting to kill the legislation and drew attention to House Democrats said to be planning to vote against it.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House Republican whip, asserted in a statement that Americans "prefer incremental health-care reforms to strengthen the system we have," rather than what he called "the trillion-dollar health-care overhaul complete with kickbacks that passed the Senate on Christmas Eve." He demanded that all members of Congress "go on the record and make clear whether they support the Senate bill or not as is."

Obama focused his pitch for a health-care overhaul on the story of Natoma Canfield, a 50-year-old Ohio cancer survivor and self-employed house cleaner who struggled to maintain health insurance as her premiums skyrocketed. Last year, her insurance company raised her premiums by more than 25 percent, and she had to pay more than $10,000 in premiums and out-of-pocket costs for $900 in insurer-paid care, only to receive notice at the end of the year that her premiums would rise again by more than 40 percent, Obama told the audience.

Unable to afford the insurance any longer, she was forced to give it up and gamble that she would stay healthy, and she wrote a letter to Obama explaining her plight. Then, last week, her worst fears were realized when she collapsed, was rushed to a hospital and was diagnosed with leukemia, Obama said. Canfield had been scheduled to introduce Obama at Monday's appearance but could not make it because she was still in a hospital bed, racked with worry about her illness and the costs of fighting it, the president said.

"I'm here because of Natoma," Obama told the crowd. "I'm here because of countless others who have been forced to face the most terrifying challenges in their lives with the added burden of medical bills they can't pay. I don't think that's right. . . . That's why we need health-insurance reform right now!"

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