PHILIP ELLIOTT
Associated Press Writer
(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

GREEN BAY, Wisconsin (AP) — President Barack Obama went to America’s heartland Thursday to challenge critics of his proposed health care overhaul, warning that inaction would prove costly and asking: “What’s the alternative?”

A dispute over Obama’s desire to create a new government-sponsored health plan to compete with private insurers is forming a major obstacle to bipartisan consensus on health reform. So the president, undertaking a new and aggressive push to see legislation enacted this year, attempted to sell that and his other ideas on health reform directly to Americans.

He described his critics as naysayers.

“I know there are some who believe that reform is too expensive, but I can assure you that doing nothing will cost us far more in the coming years,” Obama said. “Our deficits will be higher. Our premiums will go up. Our wages will be lower, our jobs will be fewer, and our businesses will suffer.”

The president’s warnings come as reservations have been expressed by health care providers, Congress — led by Obama’s fellow Democrats — and the public. During the brief ride from the airport to a town hall-style meeting, Obama passed several hundred protesters. Many held signs such as “NObama” and “No to Socialism.”

In Washington, Republicans assailed any inclusion of a public insurance option in a new system of expanded health care.

“We see that as a slippery slope to having the government run everything,” Sen. Mike Enzi, said at a news conference.

But Obama said no one — “certainly not me” — is interested in a nationalized health care system, like that in Great Britain, answering a question from a woman who said she supports it. The president said the government is not going to force any change upon people who are pleased with the plan they already have with their employer.

“When you hear people saying socialized medicine, understand, I don’t know anybody in Washington who is proposing that,” he said.

Obama has set an August deadline for his goal of reshaping the nation’s health care system to bring down costs and extend coverage to 50 million uninsured Americans — an overhaul that has vexed Washington for decades.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.