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Public Views on Health Reform Shape Political Landscape

As Congress works to draft health care reform legislation, the Hotline's Amy Walter and NPR's Julie Rovner assess President Obama's latest remarks on a public insurance option, concerns over the cost of an overhaul and how the public is viewing the debate.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Next, more from the president's news conference, this time about health care. He took questions on the public plan idea and the potential costs of reform. Here are some excerpts.

    BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: There's been a lot of talk about, well, a trillion-dollar price tag. What I've said is, if we're going to spend that much money, then it's going to be largely funded through reallocating dollars that are already in the health care system but aren't being spent well.

    If we're spending $177 billion over 10 years to subsidize insurance companies under Medicare Advantage when there's no showing that people are healthier using that program than the regular Medicare program, well, that's not a good deal for taxpayers. And we're going to take that money, and we're going to use it to provide better care at a cheaper cost to the American people.

    The public plan I think is an important tool to discipline insurance companies. What we've said is, under our proposal, let's have a system the same way that federal employees do, the same way that members of Congress do, where — we call it an exchange, but you can call it a marketplace — where essentially you've got a whole bunch of different plans.

    If you like your plan and you like your doctor, you won't have to do a thing. You keep your plan; you keep your doctor. If your employer is providing you good health insurance, terrific. We're not going to mess with it.

  • JOURNALIST:

    … private insurers out of business?

  • BARACK OBAMA:

    Well, why would it drive private insurance out of business? If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best-quality health care, if they tell us that they're offering a good deal, then why is it that the government, which they say can't run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That's not logical.

    Now, if it turns out that the public plan, for example, is able to reduce administrative costs significantly, then, you know what, I'd like the insurance companies to take note and say, "Hey, if the public plan can do that, why can't we?" And that's good for everybody in the system, and I don't think there should be any objection to that.

    I take those advocates of the free market to heart when they say that the free market is innovative and is going to compete on service and is going to compete on their ability to deliver good care to families. And if that's the case, then this just becomes one more option. If it's not the case, then I think that that's something that the American people should know.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Gwen Ifill takes it from there.