Obama steps up call for health care reform

In his address to Congress on Wednesday, President Obama pushed for the government to help the uninsured.
Seeking to build on momentum generated by his health care address to Congress, President Obama ratcheted up his call Thursday for the passage of reform legislation this year.

“Now is the time to act,” Obama told an audience near the White House. “We have talked this issue to death. … The time for talk is winding down. The time for bickering is past.” The president was joined by representatives of the American Nurses Association, which has strongly endorsed the passage of a healthcare bill incorporating the president’s ideas. Obama repeated several reform principles outlined in his Wednesday night address, including the need for all Americans to have access to coverage regardless of pre-existing conditions. He again insisted that his plan will provide “more security and stability to those who have insurance,” extend it to those who don’t and slow the rate of growth in health care costs. He reiterated his call to cap out-of-pocket costs and create a health insurance exchange in which individuals and small businesses can pool resources to help bargain for lower coverage costs. Obama has also pushed for the federal government to provide greater financial assistance to those who can’t afford insurance.

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Read transcript of Obama’s speech

Read Obama’s health care plan (PDF)

Sen. Baucus’ framework (PDF)

The president’s latest call for reform came as the Census Bureau released new data showing that the number of people without health insurance rose from 45.7 million in 2007 to 46.3 million in 2008. All Americans would be required by law to have health insurance under Obama’s proposal, which the administration has projected to cost $900 billion over 10 years. The requirement, Obama noted Wednesday night, would be similar to mandatory auto insurance in most states. Businesses would also be required to either offer health care coverage to workers or contribute to covering their costs of obtaining coverage. CNN’s political analysts respond to Obama’s speech The president continued to stress his preference for a government-run public health insurance option Thursday, saying it would force private insurers to lower costs. He has repeatedly referred to the provision as one alternative for increasing competition for health insurance and signaled his openness to ideas. Republicans are unanimous in opposing a public option, calling it an unfair competitor that would drive private insurers from the market and lead to a government takeover of health insurance. Obama has rejected that claim as a false allegation intended to scare people. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a strong supporter of the public option, insisted Thursday that such a provision would save “tens of billions of dollars” in health-care expenses. The speaker, who has insisted that a health care bill cannot pass the House without a public option, skewered opponents Thursday for failing to provide what she claimed was a reasonable alternative. Opponent of reform “hit us with their best shot” during the August congressional recess, she said, and their attacks amounted to little more than “distortion” and “misrepresentation.” Pelosi also criticized Rep. Joe Wilson, the South Carolina Republican who heckled Obama on Wednesday night by shouting “You lie!” when the president denied that health care legislation would provide free coverage for illegal immigrants. The “episode was unfortunate,” and Wilson’s remarks were “stunning to hear,” Pelosi said. But given Wilson’s subsequent apology, she said, “it’s time to move on.”

Both Democrats and Republicans have criticized Wilson for what they called a show of disrespect toward the president. Shortly after the speech ended, Wilson issued a statement that apologized for his “inappropriate and regrettable” comments.