Page last updated at 19:46 GMT, Monday, 20 July 2009 20:46 UK

Obama urges action on healthcare

Barack Obama
Mr Obama says he wants to pass healthcare reform by the end of 2009

US President Barack Obama has called on Congress to "act now" to pass a healthcare reform bill.

"We've talked this problem to death year after year," Mr Obama said.

US lawmakers are currently attempting to reach agreement on a bill, with some senators calling for a delay while a bipartisan compromise is constructed.

Mr Obama has made it his priority to overhaul the US healthcare system, and expand coverage to the 46 million Americans without health insurance.

'Fighting reform'

Speaking after a meeting with staff at a Washington DC children's hospital, Mr Obama was critical of reform opponents and of lawmakers advocating delay.

"There's some in this town who are content to perpetuate the status quo, are, in fact, fighting reform on behalf of powerful special interests," he said.

"There are others who recognise the problem, but believe or perhaps hope that we can put off the hard work of insurance reform for another day, another year, and another decade."

46 million uninsured, 25 million under-insured
Healthcare costs represent 16% of GDP, almost twice OECD average
Reform plans would require all Americans to get insurance
Some propose public insurance option to compete with private insurers

Last week, a group of six moderate senators from both parties published an open letter in which they argued that "taking additional time to achieve a bipartisan result is critical".

The senators' intervention angered some advocates of healthcare reform, and correspondents say Mr Obama's remarks may have been directed at them.

Mr Obama accused others of fighting reform out of a desire to damage him politically, quoting Republican Senator Jim DeMint, who said on Friday: "If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him."

"This isn't about me," Mr Obama insisted.

"This isn't about politics. This is about a health care system that is breaking America's families, breaking America's businesses, and breaking America's economy."

Competing bills

A number of different reform proposals are currently being worked on by various congressional committees.

Last week, the Senate Committee on Health became the first congressional panel to vote to approve a healthcare reform bill.

The Senate Finance Committee is also working on a bill, and three House of Representatives committees have published a joint proposal.

Eventually, if lawmakers can agree, a bill combining elements of all of the proposals will be put to a vote in both chambers and be sent to Mr Obama for approval.

All of the plans under consideration would require Americans to take out insurance, and would bar insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

The House committees' joint bill and the Senate health committee bills would also create a new, publicly run health plan, which they hope would compete with private insurers and drive down prices.

The Senate Finance Committee bill is not expected to include a "public option", but would instead set up non-profit medical co-operatives to compete with private insurers.

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