Obama Makes Closing Arguments On Health Care

This is it, or so the White House claims: closing arguments on President Obama's effort to overhaul the nation's health care system. Obama asked Congress for a final vote this month, and to persuade Democrats to stick with him he was in suburban Philadelphia on Monday making his case.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

President Obama has begun an aggressive final push on health care. Members of Congress are already eyeing November's midterm elections and increasingly wary of tough votes. This morning the president took his argument for health care reform to Arcadia University outside Philadelphia. He attacked insurance companies for blocking efforts to fix the system in order to protect big profits, he said. Mr. Obama also accused his Republican critics of failing to address the health care crisis when they control the White House and Congress.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports from Philadelphia.

DON GONYEA: The White House wants Americans to see the debate over health care as something personal. So, today Mr. Obama was introduced by Leslie Banks(ph). She's a self-employed, single mother with diabetes. She was informed in January that she has to pay a 100 percent increase in her insurance premiums or lose prescription drug coverage and see her deductible increase tenfold.

Ms. LESLIE BANKS: Well, when I called my insurance carrier to ask what was going on, they told me it was an across the board adjustment. I wasn't being singled out. Clearly that was true. But it didn't make me feel better to know that they were gouging everybody.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BANKS: I was horrified.

GONYEA: Banks then turned the floor over to the president. This was billed as a speech, but it was very much a rally.

President BARACK OBAMA: I'm kind of fired up.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Pres. OBAMA: I'm kind of fired up.

GONYEA: And just like a campaign needs an opponent to go after, so too does this legislation. And the president is targeting big insurance.

Pres. OBAMA: And the insurance companies continue to ration health care based on who's sick and who's healthy, on who can pay and who can't pay. That's the status quo in America. And it is a status quo that is unsustainable for this country. We can't have a system that works better for the insurance companies than it does for the American people.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GONYEA: The president portrayed the health care legislation he supports as the product of real compromise, something the White House says gets lost amid all the partisan rancor.

Pres. OBAMA: ...approach health care. On one side of the spectrum, there were those at the beginning of this process who wanted to scrap our system of private insurance and replace it with a government-run health care system like they have in some other countries.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GONYEA: Despite those big cheers for a so-called single-payer system, the president said, even if it works in Canada, it's not practical or realistic for the U.S.

Pres. OBAMA: On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who believe that the answer is just to loosen regulations on insurance companies. This is what we heard at the health care summit. They said, well, you know what? If we had fewer regulations on the insurance companies...

(Soundbite of booing)

GONYEA: The president said that a lack of regulation created many of the problems the system has today. As for Republicans who still call the bill a government takeover, Mr. Obama said such rhetoric is typical of a Washington that only views health care in terms of what it will mean for the next election. And he had this very blunt attack on Republicans who say he's trying to do too much.

Pres. OBAMA: I got all my Republican colleagues out there saying, well, no, no, no, we want to focus on things like cost. You had 10 years.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Pres. OBAMA: What happened?

GONYEA: This was a very friendly audience for the president. Afterwards, some expressed optimism that this big push will be enough to win passage of a health care bill. But others said they worry that the best chance for success may have passed, that these arguments should've been made more forcefully months ago. President Obama, meanwhile, holds another health care rally in St. Louis on Wednesday.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Philadelphia.

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Obama Chides Insurers In Health Overhaul Pitch

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

President Obama delivers a speech on his health care plan Monday before a crowd at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pa. Spencer Platt/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption 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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