WASHINGTON (CN) – Just days after health care legislation passed out of three committees, President Barack Obama met with doctors and nurses Monday at Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. as part of a broader effort in pushing the legislation through Congress. “We’ve talked this problem to death, year after year,” he said. “But unless we act, and act now, none of this will change.”
“There’s just a tendency towards inertia in this town. I understand that as well as anybody,” Obama said. “But we’re a country that chooses the harder right over the easier wrong.”
The eight-minute speech precedes a much larger prime-time address scheduled for Wednesday, which some believe will focus on the health-care legislation now before Congress. It also follows a series of speeches by Obama promoting health-care legislation, the most recent of which was last Friday.
In keeping with his custom, Obama did not go into detail about how health-care should be corrected, but he did say what should be fixed. “The bill I sign must reflect my commitment and the commitment of Congress to slow the growth of health-care costs over the long run,” he declared.
“He’s not being that specific and I think intentionally so,” Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute said, explaining over the phone that Obama hopes to build support for broad principles of reform, but that he has ultimately left it to Congress to develop the legislation.
In his push, Obama quoted a senator he did not identify, saying, “‘If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.'” The senator Obama referenced was later identified as South Carolina Republican Sen. James DeMint.
Obama then replied, “This isn’t about me. This is about a health-care system that is breaking America’s families, breaking America’s businesses, and breaking America’s economy.”
“The need for reform is urgent and it is indisputable,” Obama exclaimed. “No one denies that we’re on an unsustainable path.”
Over the last few weeks, health care has dominated public debate. After Obama said he wants reform before the end of the year, prominent Democrats introduced legislation that they said will give coverage to all Americans, slow the growth of health-care costs, and create a government insurance plan, all while working under the current health-care system.
Since then, three of the five committee charged with working on health-care reform have passed legislation out of committee, and a fourth, the House Energy and Commerce Committee continues its mark-up of the bill and is expected to finish this week.
Nonetheless, the legislation passing out of committee has received almost no republican support, and has even fallen out of favor with some Democrats.
The Senate Finance Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee are the last stops before a conference committee is held, where the differences between House and Senate legislation will be addressed. After that, the agreed upon bill will be put to a vote on the House and Senate floors.
Obama has long pushed for creation of a public option, which he says will compete with private insurance companies — “to keep them honest” — for coverage of every American. He also wants to change the incentives that he says automatically equate expensive care with better care.
He said doctors often order more costly tests because they are incentivized to do so, and because they want to protect themselves from malpractice lawsuits. But Obama has largely failed to explain how those perverse incentives would be altered under the legislation being proposed.
Proponents of the legislation contend it addresses these issues, but critics have expressed concern over funding, potential negative effects on small businesses, and over the government plan intended to compete against private insurers. Many have said a public plan would reduce the pay of doctors and hospitals in negotiating low rates.
Deborah Weinstein from the Coalition on Human Needs, an independent think tank, expressed in a phone interview her support for the legislation, and said 30 percent of the money Americans spend on health care “doesn’t make patients healthier.” She predicted legislation before Congress will change industry incentives to better direct this money. “We have to start to turn this ship around,” she remarked, but admitted that the efforts in the bill to control costs “need more work.”
In his address, Obama urged his audience, “Let’s fight our way through the politics of the moment. Let’s pass reform by the end of this year. Let’s commit ourselves to delivering our country a better future.”