President Obama said Monday that rising health care costs threaten the lives and livelihoods of U.S. families, pushing again for a major overhaul and saying some opponents of his plan were playing politics.
Following a morning of meetings with health professionals, Obama said that insurance premiums have doubled in U.S. households and that out-of-pocket costs have increased by one-third over the last decade. He said families are forgoing care and losing insurance coverage when they lose their jobs, and he urged Congress to pass initiatives by the end of the year.
"We can't afford the politics of delay and defeat when it comes to health care," he said at Children's National Medical Center in Washington. "There are too many lives and livelihoods at stake. If we do nothing, then families will spend more and more of their income for less and less care. The number of people who lose their insurance because they've lost or changed jobs will continue to grow."
But Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele branded Obama's plan a "reckless experiment."
"He's conducting a dangerous experiment with our health care and with the quality of our lives," Steele said in a speech at the National Press Club. "He's conducting a reckless experiment with our economy, and he's conducting an unnecessary experiment with our tax dollars — experiments that will transform the very way of life of our country and its citizens."
Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate continued to work hard on a plan to give health coverage to almost every American, with an eye toward meeting Obama's original deadline of the end of August.
Rep. Charles Rangel of New York has said the Ways and Means Committee may unveil its plan this week. Meanwhile, two Senate committees — the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Finance Committee — are working on versions.
Steele said the president is trying to push health care legislation through Congress too fast to fully consider the consequences if it doesn't work.
Obama said again Monday that his initiatives would not add to the federal deficit and said politics are behind efforts to thwart his plans to overhaul the nation's health care system. As evidence, he referred to a comment in which a Republican — Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina — predicted that health care could be the president's "Waterloo" — a reference to the battle where French leader Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated.
"This isn't about politics," Obama said. "This is about a health care system that is breaking America's families, breaking America's businesses, and breaking America's economy."
The health care initiative encountered a major hurdle last week when the Congressional Budget Office reported that the House bills would not bring down health care costs over the next 10 years, despite White House contentions that lower health costs would be a long-term effect.
CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf testified that expanding health coverage to include all Americans would increase federal costs significantly, and lawmakers would need to find additional sources of revenue in order to prevent expansion of the budget deficit.
Republicans have responded by saying the president's August timeline for passage is too risky, calling on lawmakers to take more time to research the impact of the bills.
In the past, Obama has said he wants both the House and the Senate to pass legislation before the August recess. In his weekly address to the nation, he vowed not to sign any plan that would add to the deficit. He maintained that costs would come down by improving the quality of care and the overall efficiency of the system.
But governors across the nation expressed concerns about increased health care costs for Medicaid — the health care program that serves some poor Americans — being dumped on states as part of the health care initiative.
At a weekend conference, Republican Gov. Jim Douglas of Vermont said a quarter of his state's population already receives health care through Medicaid, with states footing a big part of the bill.
"What we don't want from the federal government is unfunded mandates," Douglas said. "We can't have the Congress impose requirements that we are forced to absorb without the capacity to do so."