Obama To Make Case For Health Care Changes
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
When President Obama addresses a joint session of Congress tonight, he's expected to lay out and sell, if he can, his plan for health care overhaul. He does this after a summer of incendiary town hall meetings. Many Americans say they are still confused about what an overhaul would do.
We're joined now by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. Good morning.
Secretary ROBERT GIBBS (Press, White House): Good morning, how are you?
MONTAGNE: Fine, thank you. You said recently that people will come away from this speech tonight, quote, "knowing exactly where the president stands."
Sec. GIBBS: Yeah.
MONTAGNE: Why don't we know now where the president stands?
Sec. GIBBS: Well, look, I think there has been a lot of confusion out in the public about this. I'm not sure that the public has gotten as much of a discussion about the substance of what is in these proposals as much as we have about the process and more of the heat and the light of all this. But, I think what the president will do tonight, lay out very clearly what's in health care reform. And when the president is done, everyone who listens will understand that his plan has, at its core, two overriding goals. First, to bring stability and security to Americans who have insurance today and affordable coverage to those who don't. His plan will bring reforms to reduce the unsustainable growth in the cost of health care, which has doubled over the last decade. And quite frankly, if we - if we don't act now, will do so again.
MONTAGNE: The White House, at times, has said that within his plan a public option is a must. That - then, sort of moved on to suggesting it - this is the White House - it's not the essential element. And then finally, it's a valuable tool. And that - that's actually, I'm quoting you right there.
Sec. GIBBS: Right.
MONTAGNE: If the president receives a bill that does not include a government-run insurance plan, will he sign it?
Sec. GIBBS: The - the key in this - and all the statements are consistent because, look, first and foremost the public option is not the most essential part of health care reform. That is 100 percent true even though a public option, the president believes, is a valuable tool as I've said to create choice and competition.
Let's talk a little bit, for a second, about the public option. First of all, if you receive your health insurance through Medicare, Medicaid or the VA, or as about a 180 million Americans do, through their employer, the public option won't impact you whatsoever. Okay? The public option will deal primarily with those that are seeking insurance or have sought insurance through the private insurance market for individuals or for small groups or small businesses, right?
So, let's use an example. I have a friend in Alabama who started a small business in January. Alabama has 90 percent of its private insurance market is dominated by one company - Blue Cross and Blue Shield. The first thing he had to do when he started his small business is find health insurance for his family. Now, he was lucky. His family is healthy and he was accepted into...
Sec. GIBBS: …individual plan. But he has talked to a lot of small business owners that weren't as lucky. Their families may not be as healthy. They have been denied coverage. But, for millions of people, there is no choice and there is no competition. There's no check on insurance companies.
MONTAGNE: Right, but how does that - then, back again to the question - how does that circle around - the president's core supporters will be - many of them will be very upset if he - if he accepts a plan without some sort of government-run insurance, at least as a backup.
Sec. GIBBS: Again, I think...
MONTAGNE: Yes or no, would he veto it?
Sec. GIBBS: What is important for the president is that any bill that comes to him, and the president thinks that he will get a bill on his desk this year, and institute meaningful health care reform for all of America. The bill has to provide choice and competition. You'll hear the president, tonight, talk about why he still thinks the public option is valuable...
MONTAGNE: Right, but possibly not essential. That still has yet to be answered.
Sec. GIBBS: Well, you know, the president prefers to talk about what he'd like to see in the positives about a bill. You're not going to see the president - we're not going to accentuate the negatives tonight.
MONTAGNE: All right. Well, elsewhere in this program, former House speaker Newt Gingrich suggests that the administration's approach is just too sweeping, that - that nobody can understand it, that it arouses too much opposition -this is from Mr. Gingrich - that several smaller bills would be a better way to go. You know, is there some truth in that - bite-size pieces of reform?
Sec. GIBBS: Well look, I - I'm not sure exactly what he has in mind. I know this - we have been talking about this for decades. Millions of Americans are struggling with the high cost of health insurance. Even those that think they have insurance are discriminated against by their insurance company if they have pre-existing conditions. We have to take all of these problems on. We can't afford to wait because millions of Americans, like I said, they're losing their coverage each day because their health insurance is getting much more expensive. And the president believes we have to act.
MONTAGNE: We're speaking to Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary. Just a last question: it's not just the Republicans; the president has to please conservative Democrats, as well - Blue Dog Democrats, as they call themselves. Might the president have to accept scaled-down legislation on health care?
Mr. GIBBS: Look, I think the president strongly believes, because I think regardless of what you've seen covered on cable television over this break, I've seen Republicans on television in the last few days understanding exactly what their constituents have told them. And that is we have to do something about this system. We have to do something about reforming health care.
The president believes we're still in a position to get big meaningful reform, and I think that's what he'll aim at tonight.
MONTAGNE: Thank you for joining us.
Mr. GIBBS: Happy to do it.
MONTAGNE: Robert Gibbs is the White House press secretary.
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