WASHINGTON (CN) - President Obama shifted to a more populist approach Monday during his final push for health care reform, removing his jacket and rolling up his sleeves to the cheers of rowdy student supporters at Arcadia University in Pennsylvania. He noted one insurance company's nearly 40 percent hike in premium costs and asked, to laughter, "Has anybody's paycheck gone up 40 percent?"
As in many of his past speeches, Obama underlined an urgent need for reform and rebuffed Republican arguments that reform should be done piecemeal, or that it should be postponed. But in his speech in Glenside, Pa., near Philadelphia, the president's tone was more casual and folksy, peppered with catchy populist phrases.
"We can't have a system that works for insurance companies better than it does for the American people," he said. "How many people would like a proposal that holds insurance companies more accountable?" he asked, prompting cheers from the 1,800-member crowd.
"And how many would like a proposal that brings down costs for everyone?"
The audience again exploded with applause.
Obama repeated his "now or never" argument, harking on his call to Congress last week for a speedy vote on the stalled reform. He rejected the idea that the current economy can't withstand such a change.
"When the economy was strong, we didn't do it," he said.
He took a stab at Republicans who have criticized his proposal as a big-government solution. "Well, you had 10 years," Obama said. "What were you doing?"
Obama said some Republicans now just want to loosen regulations on health insurance companies. The crowd booed. "They want me to pretend to do something that doesn't really help these folks," he said.
He summarized his plan: free preventive care would be included in all health insurance plans, annual limits on what insurance companies pay would be eliminated, and a new appeals process for anyone who thinks he has been denied a claim.
He also told the young crowd that people could pool together to gain bargaining power with insurers and that patients who can't buy insurance would receive tax credits. One proposal, in particular, seemed popular with the collegiate crowd: young adults would be able to stay on their parents' plan until reaching the age of 26.
Though Obama acknowledged that his health proposal would cost about $100 billion a year, he quickly contrasted this cost to the $2.5 trillion that Americans already spend on health care each year, and noted that new taxes and savings from the proposal would cut the deficit by $1 trillion over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
"Let's seize reform," Obama yelled, leaning into the microphone and waving his arms. "It's within our grasp."