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US President to Defend Public Health Care Option

by VR Sreeraman on September 7, 2009 at 12:08 PM
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 US President to Defend Public Health Care Option

President Barack Obama this week will defend his controversial push for a public health care option to be offered alongside existing private insurance plans, the White House said Sunday.

Obama's plans to remake health care have been squeezed during a summer marked by volatile town hall meetings in which conservatives railed against changing the system.


But the president will try to breath new life into his reform effort with an address Wednesday to a rare joint session of the US Congress.

After the address, lawmakers and the public will know "exactly where the president stands, exactly what he thinks we have to do to get health care reform this year. And he intends to do it," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told ABC's "This Week" program.

"The president strongly believes that we have to have (a public) option like this to provide choice and competition, to provide a check on insurance companies," Gibbs added.

The speech is to come the day after US lawmakers return from a month-long August break, during which Obama's approval ratings slipped and doubts appeared to grow about his embattled efforts to extend medical care to many of the more than 46 million Americans who are presently uninsured.

It also follows the latest dour poll figures that show steep declines in Obama's approval ratings as Americans express growing discontent with the president's policy agenda.

A Pew Research Center poll released Friday has Obama's approval rating dropping 10 points, to 52 percent, since his 100-day mark in April, when efforts to haul the struggling economy out of recession were at center stage.

Obama's health care reform plans -- which formed a key plank of his presidential campaign last year -- have met a buzz saw of Republican opposition, as well as concern voiced by centrists in his own Democratic Party who say they will oppose the overhaul if it includes the so-called "public option."

But Gibbs insisted Obama "will talk about the public option and why he believes and continues to believe that it is a valuable component of providing choice and competition."

The spokesman said Democrats still believed they could draw support for a bill by some "Republicans that are ready, able, and willing to work with the president to try to provide a solution for this."

But conservatives like Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty say a public option plan -- including a "trigger option" that would only go into effect years later if the private insurance industry does not enact reforms to cover more uninsured Americas -- would not find sufficient bipartisan support.

"The trigger option simply kicks the can down the road. All it does is delay the inevitable, and for a lot of reasons, it's a bad idea," Pawlenty told CNN.

"I think, if the Democrats embrace the public option, even in the form of the trigger, they're going to shoot themselves in the foot."

Moderate Democratic Senator Ben Nelson has encouraged an incremental approach to reform, and supports a plan that would trigger a government-run public option, "but only as a failsafe backstop to the process," he told NBC's "Meet the Press."

Nelson also warned that the Democratic leadership "doesn't have a consensus at this point in time."

Obama faces pressure from core liberal supporters who have warned him not to dilute or drop plans to offer government-run health care in order to get sweeping legislation through the Congress.

Democrats stress too that Obama must not get derailed by conservative criticism that reform will mean government rationing of health care or the imposition of so-called "death panels" that would rule on whether to administer care to the elderly or infirm -- accusations debunked by the Obama administration.

"I think he's got to stand up and lead and be strong," former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean told Fox News Sunday.

"What people value more in a president than anything else is strength, and that's what we've got to see on this week."

Health care legislation has cleared three House committees, and leaders of major Senate panels have said they hope to unveil a draft bill around mid-September.

Source: AFP

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