In a speech meant to be a game changer for health care reform, President Barack Obama declared he is "determined to be the last" of a long string of U.S. presidents to tackle the issue.
Obama made the claim, Wednesday, during a prime-time speech to Congress, in an effort to regain declining support for his plan for America's health care system. The president urged lawmakers again to act now or risk letting down Americans even more.
"It has now been nearly a century since Theodore Roosevelt first called for health care reform," Obama said. "Our collective failure to meet this challenge year after year, decade after decade, has led us to a breaking point."
The health care issue never left the spotlight this summer, even as Congress broke for recess in August. Many lawmakers faced strict opposition to key reform proposals as they held meetings in their home districts.
While the town hall strategy was meant to boost support for a plan, it in turn provided a forum for several angry constituents to vent their frustrations with the ideas coming out of Washington. Support for the President's plan, especially for a public insurance option, dwindled-- even among some Democrats.
But Obama chastised Congress Wednesday night, telling both parties to end the "scare tactics" and heated debate and to act now.
"The time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed," he charged. "Now is the season for action. Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do."
The president, who has been criticized for not offering enough details on his reform ideas, outlined his key proposals. He repeated his insistence that nothing in the reform bill would require those with health insurance to change the coverage they already have.
Other key points Obama proposed:
- Continued coverage even if an individual loses or changes his/her job.
- An insurance exchange market for individuals or small businesses to "shop" for insurance at competitive prices.
- Consideration of a public option allowing uninsured to choose a government-run insurance plan similar to Medicaid or Medicare.
Obama also endorsed an idea pushed by his former campaign opponent, Sen. John McCain, to protect those with pre-existing conditions from being excluded from coverage.
"As soon as I sign this bill, it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it most," he said.
In Kennedy's Shadow
Toward the end of his address, Obama invoked the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's name as a rallying cry for getting a reform plan pushed through Congress this year.
Kennedy, who for years has been a key figure in promoting health care reform, wrote a letter in May to the president. It was delivered to him upon the senator's death. Read the letter here.
"In it, he spoke about what a happy time his last months were," Obama shared. "And he expressed confidence that this would be the year that health care reform--'that great unfinished business of our society' he called it-- would finally pass."
While the debate has had a polarizing effect across the political spectrum, Obama claimed that common ground on health care reform has been reached on about 80 percent of the legislation.
Since Obama introduced his plan to change health care, a series of deadlines have been set-- and missed-- by lawmakers. Now, all but one of five Congressional panels drafting similar reform plans have acted. Hoping to close that final gap, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., announced earlier Wednesday that the Senate Finance Committee would meet in two weeks to begin drafting legislation, even if they'd not completely come to an agreement.
Sen. Ted Kennedy's widow, Vicki, attended the President's address Wednesday, along with several other invited guests who have suffered personally with high medical costs and poor coverage.
Obama will continue his health care reform push in Minneapolis, Minn., Saturday.