Obama goes before Congress, urges teamwork on health reform

President Barack Obama addressed a joint session of Congress and the American people Wednesday night on health reform.

As the remaining Congressional committee assigned to work on health reform irons out a bill, Obama has been stepping up his personal involvement in the process.

In a speech filled with passion and authority, he called out politicians who would prevent progress by spreading myths "for short-term political gains," and he made an effort to smooth ruffled feathers across party lines.

Obama said he believes there is "a broad consensus" in both parties to support consumer protections, an exchange that allows individuals and small businesses to purchase affordable coverage and a mandate that people who can afford insurance get it.

"Our overall efforts have been supported by an unprecedented coalition of doctors and nurses, hospitals, seniors' groups and even drug companies – many of whom opposed reform in the past," he said. "And there is agreement in this chamber on about 80 percent of what needs to be done, putting us closer to the goal of reform than we have ever been."

One of the major sticking points, however, has been Obama's proposal to establish a public health coverage option. Republicans and some Democrats oppose this plan, saying it could threaten the stability of the employer-based system. Opponents say it could lead to a government-run healthcare system.

Obama said his guiding principle "is, and always has been, that consumers do better when there is choice and competition." In 34 states, he said, 75 percent of the insurance market is controlled by five or fewer companies, making it easier for them to pick who to cover and overcharge small businesses.

A strong majority of Americans still favor a public insurance option but its impact shouldn't be exaggerated, Obama said. Congressional Budget Office estimates say it is likely that only 5 percent of Americans would sign up.

In his GOP response following the president's address, Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) said Obama missed an opportunity.

"The president had a chance tonight to take government-run healthcare off the table. Unfortunately, he didn't do it," Boustany said. "Replacing your family's current healthcare with government-run healthcare is not the answer.  In fact, it'll make healthcare much more expensive."

The American College of Pediatricians said it opposes adding a government-run healthcare option, fearing it will threaten a physician's ability to make decisions.

J. James Rohack, MD, president of the American Medical Association, said Congress must seize the opportunity this year to achieve meaningfully health reform, and the AMA will stay "constructively engaged in the legislative process."

Nancy H. Nielsen, MD, immediate past president of the AMA, said in a Wednesday press conference that the AMA is willing to look at all the options and has not specifically opposed or endorsed the public plan option.

House leaders have said a public plan option is non-negotiable, while some Senate Democrats and most Republicans are seeking an alternative that may include healthcare co-ops.



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