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Obama seeks to build support for health reform

2009-07-01 12
   
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résuméANNANDALE, Virginia President Barack Obama on Wednesday sought to build support to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system as a key Republican questioned whether bipartisan support among lawmakers is possible. With Congress out of session for a week, Oba
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Obama seeks to build support for health reform


ANNANDALE, Virginia President Barack Obama on Wednesday sought to build support to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system as a key Republican questioned whether bipartisan support among lawmakers is possible.

With Congress out of session for a week, Obama urged participants at a question-and-answer session in a Washington suburb to be wary of "scare tactics" and hugged a woman who said she did not have health insurance or money of her own to treat a tumor.

"You are what is going to drive this process forward. Because if Congress thinks that the American people don't want to see change, frankly, the lobbyists and the special interests will end up winning the day," Obama said at the meeting, which featured questions posed on YouTube and a parallel discussion on the White House Facebook page.

Obama has challenged Congress to send him legislation by the end of the year that will rein in rising healthcare costs and extend insurance to most of the 46 million Americans who lack it.

Obama hopes his top legislative priority will attract support from both parties, and on Tuesday received a welcome boost when Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the world's largest retailer, said it supported Obama's push to require large employers to offer healthcare insurance to workers -- a key part of the plan.

But an important Republican lawmaker on Wednesday said bipartisan support might not materialize if the Democrats who control both houses of Congress insist on creating a public plan to compete with private insurers, as Obama wants.

"Obviously, I'm not going to be a part of any effort of the government to take over health care in America," Senator Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said on a conference call.

REPUBLICAN SUPPORT

The Finance Committee is one of five panels in the Senate and the House of Representatives that are drafting healthcare legislation, and its version is viewed as the one that has the best chance of winning Republican support.

Obama has sought to build pressure on lawmakers by mobilizing grass-roots supporters and holding several question-and-answer sessions with voters.

But the extent of public support is unclear.

A CNN poll released on Wednesday found that a bare majority, 51 percent, support his healthcare plan and most worry that it would require them to pay more.

A separate Quinnipiac University poll found that 69 percent back Obama's proposal to make a public plan available, and 49 percent would be willing to pay more for healthcare.

At Wednesday's session, Obama said he would prefer to pay for reforms by ending subsidies for private insurers and reducing tax exemptions for the nation's wealthiest rather than taxing health benefits as some Republicans have suggested.

He urged voters to be wary of "scare tactics" put forward by opponents. People will not be forced to switch to a government program, he said, and costs will not suddenly increase.

"Don't let people scare you out of reforming a system that we know is not working," Obama said.

Soaring healthcare costs undermine the competitiveness of U.S. businesses, strain state and federal budgets and drive many Americans into bankruptcy.

Virginia residents who get insurance through their employer pay an average of 24 percent of the total cost, the highest rate in the nation, according to 2006 figures from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

(Editing by Vicki Allen)

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