Health Care

Obama Takes Aim At Health Insurance Companies

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President Obama traveled to Acadia University in suburban Philadelphia on Monday to make the case one more time for Congress to pass legislation to overhaul the nation's health care system. He went after Republicans for their unified opposition, and attacked big insurance companies.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

We're about to listen, in this part of the program, to some voters' concerns about health care. We will also remember just what a health-care bill really contains.

MONTAGNE: We're doing that on the morning after President Obama tried to sell his health plan outside Washington, D.C. He traveled to Arcadia University, in suburban Philadelphia, to make the case one more time for Congress to pass health-care legislation. He went after Republicans for their unified opposition, and attacked big insurance companies.

INSKEEP: NPR's Don Gonyea covered the Obama campaign, and yesterday attended an event that evoked it.

DON GONYEA: This is likely the endgame for health-care legislation for this year. So in his final push, the president is taking his message outside of Washington, making a simple, direct case about what's at stake.

President BARACK OBAMA: I want to spend some time talking about this. The price of health care is one of the most punishing costs for families and for businesses, and for our government.

(Soundbite of cheering, applause)

GONYEA: He said people in Washington worry more about how the health- care bill will affect the November election, while ordinary Americans are being forced to go without health insurance.

Pres. OBAMA: It forces small businesses to choose between hiring or health care. It's plunging the federal government deeper and deeper and deeper into debt.

GONYEA: And in this narrative, the president's leading target is the insurance industry.

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, applause)

GONYEA: This was a friendly crowd. Many were students who cheered when the president said he wants them to be eligible to stay on their parents' health care 'til age 26. Also in the audience was Jill Fink(ph), who owns a local coffee shop employing 35 people. She says the president's plan will indeed make it easier for her to provide health insurance for those workers. After the speech, she described herself as optimistic but...

Ms. JILL FINK (Coffee Shop Owner): I'm confident in his plan. I'm not as confident that Congress will pass the plan.

GONYEA: And Fink says she never imagined the process would drag on as long as it has.

Ms. FINK: For me, it seems like such a no-brainer, and something that just makes sense for so many people and so many Americans, that it's baffling to me that it's been more than a year, and we're still having the same conversation.

GONYEA: Not everyone was supportive. Standing near the back of the audience, Jack O'Brien(ph) would occasionally shout out his disapproval, once even causing the president to pause briefly. Afterward, O'Brien, a self-employed electrician, said he opposes the bill because he believes it will use federal dollars to help cover abortions. And he said the entire package is way too costly.

Mr. JACK O'BRIEN (Electrician): We can't afford it. Our country cannot afford this bill.

GONYEA: Asked what he thinks should be done to deal with ever-rising premiums, O'Brien said he's not in a position to say.

Mr. O'BRIEN: I'm not an insurance insider. I don't know what could be cut and what couldn't be cut.

GONYEA: But O'Brien added that more government involvement is not the answer. Still, that was a rare voice of flat-out dissent yesterday. Far more common was the complaint that the president should have been making the case this forcefully months ago. Ed Lichstein(ph) is a 62-year-old school counselor.

Mr. ED LICHSTEIN (School Counselor): It should have come sooner. We need that -specifics. We need it now, and he was holding off for such a long time as - exactly what his plan was. Maybe he should have had it sooner.

GONYEA: The president ended his speech just as he did so many times during the '08 campaign, urging his audience to spread the word, to pick up the phone, to knock on doors. Mr. Obama's own push continues tomorrow with a similar event in St. Louis.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Philadelphia.

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