Page last updated at 23:50 GMT, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Barack Obama 'cautiously optimistic' on healthcare

President Obama: "I'm feeling cautiously optimistic"

US President Barack Obama has said he is "cautiously optimistic" that a stalled healthcare bill will be passed in the Senate by the end of the year.

The president said the country was on the verge "of an achievement that has eluded Congresses and presidents for generations".

He was speaking after talks with Senate Democrats at the White House.

Mr Obama urged senators not to let disagreement over details derail healthcare reform.

He said the final bill would not include everything everyone wanted, but that there was too much at stake for families and businesses not to pass it.

Elusive agreement

The Democrats will need the support of the two independent senators who normally vote with them in order to pass the bill, which is opposed by Republicans.

Senator Joe Lieberman on Capitol Hill on 12 December

I'm getting to the position where I can say what I wanted to say all along, that I'm ready to vote for health care reform
Sen Joe Lieberman

One of the two independents, Senator Joe Lieberman, had earlier warned he would vote against the legislation if a provision which would allow people aged 55 to 64 to buy in to the government's Medicare programme for the elderly and disabled was included in the final version.

Securing healthcare reform is a domestic priority for Mr Obama, but deep divisions among Senate Democrats have stalled the passage of the bill.

One of the most contentious elements has been the idea of a government-run insurance plan known as a public option.

Opponents argue that a public option would increase the government's role in healthcare provision, put private insurers out of business and potentially land taxpayers with the cost of caring for millions of people.

In the face of opposition from several Democrats and Mr Lieberman the public option has been reworked in favour of a non-profit system involving private insurers overseen by a federal agency.

Mr Lieberman said on Tuesday that he could probably back a bill if both the public option and the Medicare "buy-in" for people as young as 55 were dropped.

"I'm getting to the position where I can say what I wanted to say all along, that I'm ready to vote for health care reform," he said on Tuesday.

President Obama has made a key issue of overhauling the healthcare system, including curbing medical costs and extending coverage to the millions of Americans without health insurance.

He said the bill, no matter what its final form, would be the greatest legislative achievement on healthcare since the Medicare programme was passed four decades ago.

The president is hoping the Senate will pass its bill by the end of the year to avoid the debate continuing into 2010, when congressional elections are due.

Once passed, the Senate version would have to be reconciled with the healthcare bill which has already been passed by the House of Representatives.

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