The president gave a general speech about his health care overhaul priorities, then took questions from the live audience of about 200 people and from others around the country, via the Internet.
In an emotional moment, cancer patient Debby Smith choked up as she described the kidney cancer that has kept her from working and from obtaining health insurance. The president called her "exhibit A" of the country's broken health care system, and promised to do what he could to help.
In response to a question about why he is not pushing for a single-payer system, the president reiterated his position that a single-payer system wouldn't work for the U.S. because it would be too disruptive of a change from the widely-used employer-based system. Instead, he said, a public insurance plan option, together with private insurers, would "build on what works" and provide the necessary competition and choice.
The president also emphasized the importance of reducing spending and controlling health care costs by changing doctors' and hospitals' reimbursement system to emphasize the quality, rather than the quantity, of care.
"The biggest thing we can do to hold down costs is to change the incentives of a health care system that automatically equates expensive care with better care," the president said.
Listen to the full town hall here:
The event was held at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, Va., outside Washington, D.C., and the audience -- chosen by the school and the White House Office of Public Engagement -- was made up of students, teachers and local community members.
Internet users also posted questions on the White House's Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages.
Dr. Caren Kieswetter, a local obstetrician who said she had to close her private practice in 2004 because of the managed care practices of the health insurance industry, was waiting outside with others hoping to gain admittance to the crowded meeting.
"If I could ask one question I would say, how quickly can you get this new plan up and running? Because we are so, so overdue," she said.
Listen to more from meeting attendees here: