Obama intensifies health reform drive

TRUMPETING nurses’ support for a healthcare overhaul while lamenting a worsening toll of uninsured, US President Barack Obama kept up the pressure yesterday for congressional action.

“We don’t need more partisan distractions,” Obama said at the White House, just 14 hours after his Wednesday night address to Congress and a national television audience. “We have talked this issue to death... The time for talk is winding down.”

The White House event was organised with the American Nurses Association, to showcase the group’s backing for Obama’s drive to revamp the nation’s healthcare system. Obama says his plan would give people who have health insurance greater security, set up a marketplace for affordable access to coverage for those without and reduce healthcare costs for all.

Obama plans to remain in the spotlight on healthcare in the coming days, appearing at a rally tomorrow in Minnesota and scheduling another speech for next Tuesday.

After the event with nurses, Obama convened a cabinet meeting where the discussion was dominated by his determination to get a healthcare bill passed. “I continue to be open to suggestions and ideas from all quarters,” Obama said, his Cabinet gathered around a long table. “What we cannot do is stand pat.”

Obama said he accepted the apology of Rep Joe Wilso, who had shouted out “You lie” when the president said in his Wednesday night speech that illegal immigrants would not benefit from his proposals. Wilson apologised “quickly and without equivocation”, Obama said, adding, “we all make mistakes”.

“We have to get to the point where we can have a conversation about big important issues that matter to the American people without vitriol, without name calling,” he said. “I hope some of the fever breaks.”

Vice President Joe Biden also toured the morning network news shows, saying the fights over details like a government-run option obscured a real bipartisan consensus for change.

“I’ve been in the Congress for a very long time, eight presidents. I believe we will have a bill before Thanksgiving,” Biden said.

Before a crowd of cheering nurses in an office building adjoining the White House, Obama said that too many people are being cut off from coverage.

He also cited new Census statistics, released yesterday, showing that the number of uninsured has risen to 46.3 million from 45.7 million in 2007.

Sen John McCain said yesterday if the administration wants to see legislation realised, it must reach out more aggressively to minority Republicans.

“We need to do it [reform healthcare], but it has to be bipartisan,” McCain said.

Obama’s speech spelled out where he stands on key issues on reform. While some of his explanations – notably on costs – were incomplete, he left no doubt he’s taking ownership.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corp snap poll of people showed that after the speech, two-thirds said they supported Obama’s healthcare proposals, compared with 53% in a survey days before the president spoke. About one in seven speech- watchers changed their minds on Obama’s proposal, but the audience was more Democratic than the US population as a whole.

Republicans said Obama came up short in his Wednesday night speech, even though he showered them with attention.

Under Obama’s plan insurance policies could not be cancelled if people get sick. Insurers would not be able to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions.

For the millions who lack insurance government subsidies would be available to make premiums more affordable. But individuals would be required to get coverage, and employers would have to contribute.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the plan entails too much government.

“Americans weren’t looking for a new sales pitch,” he said. “They’re looking for a new proposal.”

Biden said Obama went as far as he needed to for now to compromise on the public option.

Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, is moving forward with plans to debate legislation by the end of the month. Baucus had delayed action hoping to broker a bipartisan deal. But Wednesday, he said he would press ahead with or without Republicans.


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