Obama: Health Care Is 'Defining Struggle' Of Era

President Obama at the University of Maryland, College Park i

At the University of Maryland in College Park on Thursday, President Obama said a public option in health care represents a choice akin to state-supported vs. private colleges. Rob Carr/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Rob Carr/AP
President Obama at the University of Maryland, College Park

At the University of Maryland in College Park on Thursday, President Obama said a public option in health care represents a choice akin to state-supported vs. private colleges.

Rob Carr/AP

President Obama cast the fight for an overhaul of the U.S. health care system as the "defining struggle of this generation" in an impassioned speech Thursday that aimed to rally the support of the nation's young people.

Recalling the struggle for civil rights and women's voting rights, Obama told an enthusiastic crowd of about 15,000 at the University of Maryland that the United States is the only nation in the world that has left millions of people without health insurance.

"Nobody in America should be treated that way," he said. "We need the voices of young people to change this nation," Obama told the crowd in College Park, Md., a Washington suburb.

He promised the students that his plan would provide coverage for young people — by allowing them to stay on their parents' insurance until they are 26, or providing low-cost coverage for those under 25 whose parents lack coverage.

Obama was pushing for the overhaul just a day after Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus announced details of an $856 billion plan that supporters say will insure millions of additional Americans without adding to the deficit.

The Congressional Budget Office put the cost of the Baucus plan at $774 billion, a difference Baucus aides attributed to gross totals used by Baucus as opposed to the net figures used by the CBO. The plan is much cheaper than others being circulated in the House and Senate.

Obama said U.S. presidents have been pushing for an overhaul of the health care system since Teddy Roosevelt was president a century ago, but special interests have fought the proposals.

"I may not be the first president to take up the cause of health care reform. I am determined to be the last," he vowed.

Obama repeated earlier statements that no one would be forced to give up a plan they like. And he flatly rejected assertions that a public option was tantamount to a government takeover of health care that would threaten private insurers, saying a public option represents a choice akin to state-supported vs. private colleges.

Although another Republican issue — the cost of medical malpractice lawsuits — was not included in the plan, Obama said his administration was announcing a $25 million grant program to fund experiments aimed at reducing malpractice suits and cutting costs.

Under Baucus' plan, all U.S. citizens and legal residents would be required to have health insurance. To help people afford coverage, the plan would offer subsidies based on a sliding scale, and it would levy a $6 billion fee on insurers. The fees would come out of the huge profits the companies are expected to make due to the increased number of customers.

The bill would expand Medicaid, the program that provides health care for the poor, and would create nonprofit cooperatives to sell insurance in competition with private industry to hold down costs.

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