Obama town hall: ‘Fix health care this year’

Speaking to a town-hall meeting broadcast live on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks, President Obama called on the people to reject “scare tactics” and push for healthcare reform this year that includes a strong public option.

“Inaction is not an option,” the President told the meeting of hundreds of people who packed an auditorium in Annandale, Virginia. Thousands watched via live streaming on the Internet and sent in a steady flow of questions, some of which Obama answered. The President rebutted critics who say he has too many issues on his plate, two wars, a deep recession, global warming and crisis-afflicted public education and healthcare. “America has waited too long for action on these issues,” he said. Now is the time “to fix” a broken health-care system, a broken school system, and to step into a “clean energy future.”

He told of meeting a 36 year old mother of two children in Green Bay, Wis., who is ill with cancer. She and her husband are both insured yet the couple are still $50,000 in debt because of uncovered medical expenses. Instead of focusing on recovering her health, “she is thinking about leaving her two children with a mountain of debt,” Obama said. “We are going to pass health care reform not next year, not ten years from now. We’re going to pass it this year.”

A woman named Debbie, told the town hall meeting that she is facing homelessness and is living on food stamps and has no money to pay for her cancer treatment. “Come on over here,” said Obama gently. “We are going to figure out how we can help you.” Then he told the audience, “Debbie is an example of why we need to fix the health care system.”

The Republican right is clamoring that healthcare reform will cost more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years. Obama snapped back, “We have to understand the cost of doing nothing. In the past nine years, health care costs doubled and the costs are going to keep on rising. Your wages are not going to rise that fast and a bigger and bigger bite is going to come out of your paycheck to cover the costs of healthcare.”

Contrary to the fear-mongers, healthcare reform will sharply reduce costs, he said. His plan, including the public option is “deficit neutral.” Just one reform, eliminating the Medicare Advantage scam will save the U.S. Treasury $177 billion annually in taxpayer subsidies for private insurance company profits, he said. Much of the cost of his plan is reprogramming of funds already spent in the current system.

He denied that he supports taxes on employer-provided health care benefits explaining that his GOP opponent, John McCain, had first proposed lifting the tax exclusion on employer-based healthcare plans and then giving workers a $5,000 health care tax credit to buy their own health insurance. What, Obama asked, if the cost of private coverage was $14,000 a year? “You would be worse off.”

The first question asked by video was why the President does not support single-payer healthcare that “eliminates insurance company profits.”

Obama replied that most industrialized nations have some form of single-payer healthcare. Medicare, he said, “is a single-payer system….It works pretty well.”

But the healthcare industry is one-sixth of the U.S. economy, he said, and a majority of the people are covered by private insurers.

Terminating the current system overnight “would be hugely disruptive…” He argued for a hybrid plan that preserves a “free market” role. “One of the choices should be a public option to compete with the private insurers to keep them honest…It is time to provide Americans who can’t afford health care more affordable options. It is a moral imperative….an economic imperative.”

Bolstering Obama’s arguments was a new poll showing that 69 percent of the public favors a “public option” as part of healthcare reform legislation.

It confirmed an earlier CBS-New York Times poll in which 72 percent of those polled favor a government-funded healthcare option. The Quinnipiac poll also showed that only 28 percent support “government-run health insurance.”

But Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut, ever in the service of the insurance companies based in his state, publicly announced his opposition to the public option. However, Minnesota now has Democratic Sen. Al Franken, who is a supporter of the public option now that his Republican rival, Norm Coleman, has conceded defeat.

The last question from the floor of Obama’s Town Hall Meeting came from an African American woman who identified herself as a member of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). “What can I do as a member of a union to help you with your health care legislation,” she asked.

Obama replied, “Tell your friends and neighbors to get informed so the scare tactics of those who oppose health care reform don’t work.” Obama stressed “The train is leaving the station. We had better get on board….You are what will drive this processd foreward. Otherwise, the lobbyists and the special interests” will block reform.