President Barack Obama delivers remarks on health care reform. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., acting chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is second from left. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
WASHINGTON (AP) — Praising and prodding Congress at once, President Barack Obama on Wednesday said a vast reform of the U.S. health insurance system is required to head off instability to families, industry and the government itself.
“Deferring reform is nothing more than defending the status quo — and those who would oppose our efforts should take a hard look at just what it is they’re defending,” Obama said at the White House, pushing for landmark bills to get through the House and Senate before Congress’ August recess.
The United States is the only developed nation that does not have a comprehensive national health care system for all its citizens. About 50 million of America’s 300 million people are without health insurance. The government provides coverage for the poor, the elderly and some veterans, but most Americans rely on private insurance, usually provided by their employers.
Putting more of his own political stake behind the effort each day, Obama outlined the troubles with the U.S. approach to health care coverage, with an emphasis on the cost to consumers. He spoke of soaring premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs and promised with reform, “You’ll save money.”
“If you lose your job, change your job, or start a new business, you’ll still be able to find quality health insurance that you can afford,” Obama promised. Once again assuring Americans who are dubious of what might be changing, he said anyone happy with their doctor and health care plan will be able to keep it.
To make his point, Obama surrounded himself with nurses and proclaimed that they’re “on board” with reform.
Any proposed health care package still must clear the complexities and politics of getting through the House and Senate, with Obama’s ambitious goals of slowing cost increases and bringing coverage to the uninsured. How to pay for it all remains one of the most vexing parts of the debate.
“The status quo on health care is not an option for the United States of America,” Obama said. “It is threatening the financial stability of families, of businesses and of government. It’s unsustainable.”
The Senate health committee cast a milestone vote Wednesday to approve legislation expanding insurance coverage to nearly all Americans, becoming the first congressional panel to act on Obama’s top domestic priority. A day earlier, House Democratic leaders pledged to meet the president’s goal of health care legislation before their August break, offering a $1.5 trillion plan that for the first time would make health care a right and a responsibility for all Americans. Left to pick up most of the tab were medical providers, employers and the wealthy.
“This progress should make us hopeful but it can’t make us complacent,” Obama said. “It should instead provide the urgency for both the House and the Senate to finish their critical work on health reform before the August recess.”
Indeed, Obama’s brief comments amounted to a presidential pep talk. “It’s time for us to buck up Congress, this administration, the entire federal government to be clear that we’ve got to get this done.”
In the Senate, the health committee’s 13-10 vote advanced a $600 billion measure that would require individuals to get health insurance and employers to contribute to the cost. Democratic leaders are driving for floor votes in the House and Senate before Congress goes on its August break.
The health committee bill calls for the government to provide financial assistance with insurance premiums for individuals and families making up to four times the federal poverty level, or about $88,000 for a family of four, a broad cross-section of the middle class. The legislation is but one piece of a broader Senate bill still under development.
Associated Press writers David Espo, Ben Feller, Alan Fram and Erica Werner contributed to this report.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.