WASHINGTON (CN) – President Obama called his health care plan a “patient’s bill of rights on steroids” in his final push for reform before a climactic vote planned for Sunday. “If this vote fails, the insurance industry will continue to run wild in America,” he told a sea of supportive George Mason University students. “That’s why their lobbyists are stalking the halls of Congress as we speak.”
An energetic Obama also drew on his familiar message of hope, using his rise from a virtually unknown candidate to the nation’s president to demonstrate that high hurdles can be overcome with determination.
“I need you to stand with me just like you did when I came here three years ago,” he told the students, a demographic that played a major role in the success of his presidential campaign.
He also tied the success of the bill to the ambition of the nation. “It’s a debate about the character of our country, whether we still have the guts and the courage,” he yelled into the microphone.
“Are we going to let the special interests win once again or are we going to make this vote a victory for the American people?” he asked, citing past votes on now-popular measures such as Social Security. “When we have faced such decisions in our past, this nation has chosen time and again to extend its promise to more of its people.”
He decried the Republican “nonsense” aimed at the bill. “We have heard every crazy thing about this bill,” he said, including accusations of a government takeover of health care or that Medicaid will cover illegal immigrants. “Then we heard that this was gonna kill granny,” Obama said in apparent reference to the firestorm sparked when former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin wrote that health reform would create “death panels.”
The president explained what the bill would actually do: stop insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, block them from dropping people after they made claims, require free preventative care, and end lifetime and annual limits on coverage.
“This is a patient’s bill of rights on steroids,” he said.
He added that the bill would allow those 26 and younger to stay on their parents’ insurance plans, a provision that was raucously applauded by the collegiate audience.
The bill will extend coverage to 32 million Americans at a cost of roughly $100 billion a year, Obama said, adding that cuts to inefficiencies and increases in taxes would cover the cost. “It wouldn’t be alright if we weren’t paying for it.”
He then cited the Congressional Budget Office report released Thursday, which showed that the bill would reduce the deficit by $1.3 trillion over 20 years.
“Not only can we afford to do this,” he said, “we can’t afford not to do this.
The bill and cooresponding budget office review do not include the ceremonial block of heavy cuts to doctor pay under Medicare. Congress has a history of repeatedly passing a temporary “doctor fix” and is expected to include the costly measure in later legislation.
Obama pointed to what he suggested was Republican hypocrisy. “These are the same guys who passed that prescription drug bill without paying for it, adding over $1 trillion to our deficit.”
Some of the cost-saving measures come from paying doctors for how healthy their patients are instead of how many tests they order, Obama said. Other cuts would reportedly come from promoting preventative care and by allowing individuals and small businesses to pool together and grow their bargaining power with insurance companies.
Obama told the story of Leslie Banks, a single mother from Pennsylvania who was notified that her insurance premiums would double, and must now decide between sending her daughter to college and buying insurance.
“Leslie Banks needs us to pass this reform bill,” he said.