Obama projects $900 billion to fix health care
President backs ‘public option’ but only as limited part of larger plan
By Alex Johnson
updated 13 minutes ago
Declaring that he is determined to be the last president confronted with reshaping health care in America, President Barack Obama proposed a 10-year, $900 billion plan Wednesday night to overhaul a system that he said had left the country at “a breaking point.”
In a prime-time address to a joint session of Congress, Obama laid out the specifics of his proposal to change the way Americans’ medical care is paid for, responding to critics who have complained that he has not set forth precisely what he thinks the new program should be.
Obama outlined what he called the favored proposals of extremes on both sides of the health care debate: a single-payer system like Canada’s, in which the government provides coverage for everyone, and a dismantling of the employer-based system, leaving individuals to buy insurance on their own.
The president rejected both options, saying they would represent “a radical shift that would disrupt the health care most people currently have” — something he said could not happen. Instead, he charted a middle course on the most contentious issue of the entire debate — whether the government should directly pay for some Americans’ health insurance.
While Obama made it clear that he strongly endorsed what has come to be known as the “public option,” he offered it as only a small component of a larger system of “insurance exchanges” in which individual Americans and small businesses could pool their negotiating power to wrest better coverage and lower rates from private insurance companies.
“It would only be an option for those who don’t have insurance,” Obama said. “No one would be forced to choose it, and it would not impact those of you who already have insurance.”
And even then, he said that he would be open to alternatives as long as they accomplished the “ultimate goal” — ensuring coverage for uninsured Americans and promising “security and stability” for those who already have insurance.
Obama: ‘Time for games has passed’
Obama’s address came against the background of harsh back and forth between proponents of competing health care proposals.
The president went out of his way to denounce the “scare tactics” of his opponents, which have included false claims that the government would convene panels to decide whether ill, elderly Americans should be forced to die.