Page last updated at 19:23 GMT, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 20:23 UK

Obama tackles healthcare critics

President Obama: ''We are closer to achieving health insurance reform than we have ever been''

US President Barack Obama has accused some opponents of his healthcare reform proposals of trying to "scare the heck" out of people.

Anti-reform campaigners had created "bogeymen out there that just aren't real", he said at a town-hall style meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Passing a healthcare reform bill is Mr Obama's top domestic priority for 2009.

But in recent weeks, opponents of reform have been making serious accusations about his proposals.

The former Republican vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, said last week that the president wanted to set up "death panels" of government officials with the power to determine whether disabled or elderly Americans are "worthy of healthcare".

In fact, under proposals drawn up by the US House of Representatives, the government would pay for elderly Americans to receive voluntary consultations with doctors to discuss their end-of-life care.

"The rumour that's been circulating a lot lately is this idea that somehow the House of Representatives voted for death panels that will basically pull the plug on Grandma because we've decided that its too expensive to let her live anymore," said Mr Obama.

"Somehow, it has gotten spun into this idea of death panels. I am not in favour of that, I want to clear the air here."

Meetings disrupted

Some 46 million people in America currently do not have health insurance, and rising healthcare costs are a major contributing factor to America's spiralling budget deficit.

But there is disagreement about how to go about reforming the system.

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

Democrats in the House of Representatives have reportedly reached a deal on a bill that would mandate all Americans to take out health insurance, with subsidies for the less well-off paid for by a tax on families earning over $350,000 a year.

The House bill would also offer Americans who do not get coverage through their employer the chance to join a publicly-run scheme.

But in the Senate negotiations have stalled, with moderate senators expressing opposition to both the tax and the public plan proposed by the House.

Both chambers need to agree on a bill before it can become law.

People are afraid to go to the hospital in an emergency, because they do not want to saddle their families with debilitating debt
Louise Wilson, Grand Rapids, MI

Mr Obama had called on the Senate and the House to agree their own versions of a bill before the August recess, but lawmakers missed the deadline.

During the recess, a number of healthcare "town-hall" meetings hosted by Democratic politicians have been targeted by conservative opponents of reform.

The opposition has sometimes been quite vocal, with anti-reform campaigners chanting slogans and shouting down supporters of reform.

Proponents of reform say the protests are being organised by well-funded lobby groups, while opponents say they are a genuine expression of anger at Mr Obama's proposals.

At the New Hampshire meeting, which did not feature any angry scenes, the president called on his opponents to temper their behaviour.

"I do hope that we will talk with each other and not over each other," he said.

Polls suggest that a majority of Americans support many of the administration's healthcare proposals.

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