Obama Chides Insurers In Health Overhaul Pitch

President Obama delivers a speech on his health care plan at Pennsylvania's Arcadia University. i i

hide captionPresident Obama delivers a speech on his health care plan Monday before a crowd at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pa.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
President Obama delivers a speech on his health care plan at Pennsylvania's Arcadia University.

President Obama delivers a speech on his health care plan Monday before a crowd at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pa.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In a direct appeal to cash-strapped Americans, President Obama on Monday ripped into insurance companies for instituting double-digit rate increases — part of his 11th-hour effort to build public support for a health care overhaul and spur Congress to hold a vote later this month.

"The price of health care is one of the most punishing costs for families, businesses and our government," Obama told the crowd at Arcadia University in the Philadelphia suburb of Glenside.

He said insurers are raising rates by up to 60 percent in his home state of Illinois, while Anthem Blue Cross in California tried to push through a 39 percent increase just last month.

The president's plan would give government officials the power to deny excessive increases in premiums. It would also prohibit companies from excluding people for coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions, and allow young people to stay on their parents' plans until age 26.

Even though the rate increases mean some customers will have to drop their coverage altogether, Obama said, insurance companies have figured that they'll make more by raising premiums on their other customers.

The president singled out investment bank Goldman Sachs, which recently released documents showing that a lack of market competition makes it beneficial for insurers to drop customers or ignore new business and raise rates on remaining customers instead. Goldman's conclusions were based on a conference call with an industry expert at a major insurance broker.

"And they will keep doing this for as long as they can get away with it," Obama said.

The president, who is making another speech in St. Louis on Wednesday, is pushing the House to put health legislation to a vote by March 18, when he leaves for a trip to Indonesia and Australia.

Many lawmakers have been reluctant to support Obama's sweeping overhaul of the health care system during an election year. But the plan is a signature administration issue, and the president has urged Congress to vote in favor of it.

Democratic leaders are narrowing in on a strategy that calls for House Democrats to go along with a health bill the Senate passed in December. Obama then would sign it into law, but senators would promise to make changes on issues that have concerned House Democrats. Senate Democrats may pass the plan under rules that require a simple majority. They lost the 60-vote majority needed to stop a Republican filibuster when Scott Brown, a Republican state senator, was elected to fill the seat that had been held by the late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy.

That strategy would put lawmakers on track to meet Obama's March 18 timeframe. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president would sign the bill "shortly thereafter."

Full Democratic support is far from certain. Some party moderates are uneasy about the cost of the $1 trillion bill and its language on abortion, and some House Democrats are wary of whether their Senate colleagues would follow through on promises to work out the differences in the two chambers' bills.

The Democratic plan includes greater consumer protections and bans discrimination against customers with pre-existing conditions. Small businesses would get a tax credit this year. The White House hopes the immediate changes created by the bill would give Democratic candidates a strong platform on which to campaign in the fall.

Although Obama has included some Republican ideas in his plan, GOP leaders want the existing bills to be scrapped and the process to start from the beginning. They contend that the president's plan would put the government in control of health care — a move they say the public opposes.

In Pennsylvania, Obama said Republicans made no progress on health care during the 10 years they held power in Congress.

"You had 10 years. What happened?" he said to applause from the audience at Arcadia University.

From NPR's Deborah Tedford and The Associated Press

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