At Arcadia University, outside Philadelphia, President Obama launched what his aides call the "closing argument" in his push for health care reform. Two hours away from a Washington he says is "obsessed by the sport of politics," Mr. Obama said there isn’t time to scrap the Democrats’ health reform plan and start over, as polls suggest many if not most Americans want. He said "we need to pass health reform…not next year…not five years from now…but now."
The speech was the first in a series over the next two weeks which will take place away from the poisonous partisan atmosphere of Washington, where, aides feel his words have less impact. Wednesday he’ll continue the discussion in Missouri, aiming to make the case that doing nothing is not an option, not just because the status quo is unacceptable but because the status quo won’t last. The President said insurance companies have ‘calculated’ they can continue to lose subscribers because they can continue to raise premiums on those who remain. Employers will continue to drop insurance coverage for their workers, he says, and rising Medicare and Medicaid costs will continue to hike the budget deficit.
With polls suggesting most people don’t support the Democrats health care proposal, Mr. Obama spotlighted elements most people do support and insisted they would become reality in the first year. In that time, he said, the parents of children with pre-existing medical conditions would be able to purchase insurance for them. Insurance companies would be banned from dropping people who get sick and from setting annual benefit limits. Young adults would be able to stay on their parents insurance until age 26.
The White House chose this university, which offers 15 undergraduate health care degrees, to make the case that the health profession largely supports Mr. Obama’s reforms. The crowd was enthusiastic. Several people who shouted criticism were simply drowned out by the cheers. In fact, one of the biggest cheers came in support of the government run insurance option which the President noted is not in the Democrats’ proposal.
Mr. Obama said after a year of debate his health reform proposal ended up "somewhere in the middle" of what Republicans and Democrats wanted at the start of his administration, without the "public option" that would give government more control or the insurance company deregulation he says would give the companies "more leeway to raise premiums and deny care."
The President’s goal is to build public support for House members who cast what he admits will be a tough vote on the Senate passed health care bill later this month. With Republicans vowing the health reform debate will be the main issue in every Congressional race this Fall, Mr. Obama said political difficulties don’t compare to the lives of families without insurance or bankrupted by health care costs. And he said "we were sent there (Washington) to do what’s hard."
Wendell Goler serves as a senior White House and foreign affairs correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC), joining the network in 1996.