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Obama woos Congress on healthcare



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Obama cheered and heckled

US President Barack Obama has made one of the most important speeches of his presidency, as he faced Congress over his plans for healthcare reform.

Mr Obama said that failure to introduce reform had led the country to breaking point and it was now time to act.

He said he planned to improve health insurance for those who have it and to create an insurance exchange to extend cover to those who do not.

Republicans said Mr Obama's plans would make healthcare much more expensive.

Mr Obama told Congress that the US was the only developed country that allowed millions of its people to endure the hardship of going without healthcare.

MARDELL BLOG
The BBC's Mark Mardell
He attempted to reclaim the flag for the Democrats, against critics who say he is not only wrong but unpatriotic in his plans.
Mark Mardell
BBC North America editor

"Everyone understands the extraordinary hardships that are placed on the uninsured, who live every day just one accident or illness away from bankruptcy," he said.

"These are not primarily people on welfare. These are middle-class Americans."

But Mr Obama said the current system did not serve well those Americans who do have health insurance either.

"Those who do have insurance have never had less security and stability than they do today.

"More and more Americans worry that if you move, lose your job, or change your job, you'll lose your health insurance too."

He said the US spent one-and-a-half times more on health insurance than any other country but Americans were no healthier than other people.

Heckled

Mr Obama set out details of his plan to reform the system.

Americans describe their reactions to President Obama's healthcare speech

He said that nothing in his proposal would require Americans who already have health insurance to change their coverage or doctor.

But he said he would make the insurance work better for individuals by prohibiting insurers from dropping coverage for sick patients or by capping it. He would also require insurers to cover the cost of routine check-ups and preventative care.

For the millions of uninsured Americans, he said he would create an insurance exchange - a market place where individuals and small business will be able to shop for health insurance at competitive prices.

Obama Speech word cloud

Mr Obama said a public insurance option could help keep the private health insurance companies honest and competitive.

But he said it would not be subsidised by the government, so would not create unfair competition for the private sector.

He added that the public option was only a means to an end, and he remained open to other ideas if they had the same effect.

When Mr Obama said illegal immigrants would not benefit from his plan, the Republican ranks showed signs of near mutiny, says the BBC's Jonathan Beale in Washington.

HEALTHCARE IN THE US
Terminally ill patient Jackie Beattie, 83, watches Mr Obama’s speech on TV at a hospice in Denver, Colorado
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 option to compete with private insurers

One Republican representative shouted: "You lie", and the president paused briefly.

In the official Republican response to Mr Obama's speech, Representative Charles Boustany, a heart surgeon, urged a fresh start on "a commonsense, bipartisan plan".

He added: "Replacing your family's current healthcare with government-run healthcare is not the answer. In fact, it'll make healthcare much more expensive."

Our correspondent says Mr Obama was clearly not looking for right-wing Republican support - he knows he will not get it.

He says the speech was another strong performance from Mr Obama and an attempt to turn the tide in the healthcare debate.

But our correspondent adds the speech may have also come too late as positions are already entrenched and some of Mr Obama's supporters wonder why he did not do this months ago.

Biden: 'Obama re-centred' debate

Healthcare reform has been the central issue of his change agenda but has divided both the US public and the country's political establishment.

President Obama said that Congress agreed on about 80% of the reforms that are needed.

But he said months of partisan bickering had only hardened the disdain many Americans have towards their own government.

He is facing almost unanimous opposition from Republicans, who are uneasy about the idea of government-run healthcare and who have accused Mr Obama of attempting to introduce a "socialist" policy.

There are, in theory, enough Democrats in Congress to approve the changes.

But in practice, the party is deeply divided between those that want a publicly-run insurance scheme and those alarmed by the borrowing necessary to fund it.

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