The White House on Wednesday made public a letter detailing how the president hopes to make health care available to the 46 million Americans -- about 15 percent of the population -- who have no coverage.
"I strongly believe that Americans should have the choice of a public health insurance option operating alongside private plans," Obama said
"This will give them a better range of choices, make the health care market more competitive, and keep insurance companies honest," Obama said.
The US health care system is largely in private hands. Americans with health care coverage normally have it through their employers, their spouse's employer, or through an employed parent.
Others are covered by programs that limit coverage to the elderly, those with disabilities, military veterans, or the poor.
There is no universal health care system, and efforts to create such a system has generated enormous controversy over the years.
Bill Clinton, president from 1993-2001, paid a steep political price for his failed attempt to overhaul the health care system early in his presidency.
For Obama, still riding on the wave of popular support that swept him into the White House, 2009 is the ideal moment because the reform effort will likely be mired in politics in the 2010 mid-term electoral year.
Efforts to introduce a public health insurance option however will open the Democratic president to attacks from his Republican opponents, who oppose the "socialization" of the health care system.