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Obama Takes Pitch for Health Care Reform to the Public

June 11, 2009 at 6:00 PM EDT
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President Barack Obama hit the road Thursday to promote an overhaul of the nation's health care system as Congressional battle lines began to be drawn on reform legislation. Kwame Holman reports on the latest developments.

JIM LEHRER: President Obama hit the road today to promote a nationwide health care overhaul. But, back in Washington, congressional battle lines on the issue emerged, with stiff Republican opposition to any government-run system.

“NewsHour” correspondent Kwame Holman has our lead story report.

KWAME HOLMAN: The president’s pitch came at a town hall meeting in Green Bay, Wisconsin, a community that gets more bang for its health care buck than just about any
city in the U.S. There, Mr. Obama insisted the country needed to better manage its health care spending.

U.S. President BARACK OBAMA: We have the most expensive health care system in the world, bar none. We spend almost 50 percent more per person on health care than the next most expensive nation, 50 percent more. But here’s the thing, Green Bay: We’re not any healthier for it. We don’t necessarily have better outcomes.

KWAME HOLMAN: The president said, if nothing is done to reverse that trend, there would be more severe consequences.

BARACK OBAMA: If we don’t act, and act soon, to bring down costs, it will jeopardize everybody’s health care. If we don’t act, every American will feel the consequence, in higher premiums — which, by the way, means lower take-home pay — in lost jobs and shuttered business, in a rising number of uninsured and a rising debt that our children and their children will be paying off for decades.

If we do nothing, within the decade we will be spending $1 out of every $5 we earn on health care. And in 30 years, we will be spending $1 out of every $3 we earn on health care.

Now, that’s untenable. It’s unacceptable. I will not allow it as president of the United States.

KWAME HOLMAN: Mr. Obama also addressed what his expectations were for the debate going forward.

BARACK OBAMA: These are genuinely complicated issues and nobody has all the right answers.

So what we have to do is to find the 80 percent of stuff that everybody agrees on.

The challenge is going to revolve around how do we deal with the 20 percent of the stuff where people disagree?

This whole issue of the public plan is a good example, by the way. I mean, right now, a number of my Republican friends have said, “We can’t support anything with a public option.”

It’s not clear that it’s based on any evidence, as much as it is their thinking, their fear that, somehow, once you have a public plan, that government will take over the entire health care system.

KWAME HOLMAN: Many experts say expanding and changing health care could cost well more than $1 trillion over 10 years.

Today, Mr. Obama said paying for that would come in part through reducing Medicare overpayments, eliminating waste and fraud in Medicare and Medicaid, and scaling back tax cuts on top wage-earners.

Even before the president’s event, Republicans and some moderate Democrats were staked out ground on the health care reform debate, House Republican Leader John Boehner’s position: against any public health insurance plan.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: I’m opposed to a government option, period. Listen, if you like going to the DMV, and you think they do a great job, or if you like going to the post office and think it’s the most efficient thing you have run into, then you will love the government-run health care system that they’re proposing, because that’s basically what you’re going to have.

KWAME HOLMAN: On top of the president’s support for a public plan, drafts of Democratic proposals in the House and the Senate also call for the creation of a government backed-plan to compete with private insurers.

The measures also would require all Americans to purchase coverage or face fines. Waivers would be made for individuals who can’t afford to buy insurance.

The top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, said he was concerned about the direction of the bills currently in the works.

SEN. JUDD GREGG, R-N.H.: … that are blank pages. We receive them as blank pages. We don’t know what the final numbers are. We don’t know what the final language is. But there are some things that are pretty obvious in the bill, which is that it spends a heck of a lot of money, and it doesn’t have any way to pay for any of it. And that’s not good fiscal policy. It’s not healthy fiscal policy.

And, therefore, we have reservations about moving forward on a markup without having hard numbers and hard language as to what it is they’re asking us to vote on.

KWAME HOLMAN: Opposition to a government plan also came from powerful interest groups, including the American Medical Association. In a statement, the AMA said it opposes any public plan that forces physicians to participate, but wants to achieve meaningful health reform this year.

President Obama will address the AMA Monday in Chicago, where he will push again for health care reform.