WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama, in a high-stakes speech Wednesday to Congress and the nation, will press for a government-run insurance option in a proposed overhaul of the U.S. health-care system that has divided lawmakers and voters for months.
White House officials say the president will detail what he wants in the health-care overhaul, as well as say he is open to better ideas on a government plan if lawmakers have them.
Democratic plans call for requiring most Americans to carry health insurance. Failure to comply could cost families as much as $3,800 a year, according to a new Senate proposal.
The president is likely to say that a government-run insurance plan, known as the "public option," will not provide a level of subsidies that give it an unfair advantage over private insurers, according to aides familiar with the speech preparations.
Insurers oppose the public option, saying it will lead to excessive government control of health care and could eventually drive them out of business. Republicans say they won't support an overhaul with a public option, and liberal Democrats say they won't support one without it.
"Are the stakes important? Of course," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. "It's a big audience, and the president will get a chance to lay out clearly for the American people what's involved for them." White House aides conceded they didn't expect support from more than a handful of Republican lawmakers.
Negotiations over the health legislation resumed Tuesday as lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill after a month-long break.
A bipartisan group of senators huddled in the afternoon to decide whether to move forward on an overhaul plan that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.) began circulating over the weekend. The plan includes some of the stiffest penalties Congress has proposed for Americans who don't carry health insurance coverage.