Obama tackles criticism in health care speech, supports public option

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SALT LAKE CITY -- President Barack Obama took on his health care reform critics Wednesday night, saying lies about his health plan have confused people.

In his speech, the president campaigned for a public option, to force down private insurance costs but disagreed with Democrats who say it's essential.

"The public option is only a means to that end, and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal," Obama said.

He then made several promises:

  1. Health insurance for people who have none
  2. No change of plans or doctors
  3. A limit on out of pocket expenses

The president also wanted to answer criticism and lingering questions about where he stands on health care reform. It was a speech that thrilled supporters, but may not have won over many opponents.

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"I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last," Obama said. He reminded Congress that every president in the last century tried to reform health care and failed.

"Our collective failure to meet this challenge, year after year, decade after decade, has led us to the breaking point," Obama said.

He says too many Americans live one medical emergency away from bankruptcy, and those who have insurance face growing instability and costs.

But Republican opponents want more compromise.

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch responded to the president's speech by saying, "As I told President Obama in a letter yesterday, the current health care bills before Congress are too partisan, too expensive and too 'big government' for most Americans to support." [VIDEO: CLICK HERE to view the Republican Party's official response to the president's speech]

At a Salt Lake sports bar, reform supporters tuned the TV to the speech. They liked what they heard and were glad that the president fended off attacks to reform proposals.

"I think the changes, if they're pushed through, will do a lot towards helping Americans and helping the economy," said Tara Sudweeks.

As for the highly-hyped and much-maligned public option? Well, Obama had an answer for that question too.

"An additional step we can take to keep insurance companies honest is by making a not-for-profit, public option available in the insurance exchange," he said.

Obama said the public option would only be for those without insurance, no one would be forced to chose it, and it would have to be self-supporting financially.

But many Utahns have serious concerns about the whole package. Provo plastic surgeon Dr. Charles Stewart, part of a coalition favoring a market-based approach, worries a public option will severely limit patient choice.

"We're concerned that patients are going to be left out in the cold, that they're really not going to get to their physician, and the physicians are not going to be able to give our patients the care that they need," Stewart said.

Supporters believe the president answered those fears Wednesday night.

"I think people are just up on the fence, and I think they need to look at the facts of what health care really costs people right now," Eric Wilson said.

The president acknowledged there are "significant details to be ironed out" but said a broad consensus exists for a plan that covers everyone.


Story compiled with contributions from Jed Boal, John Daley and Marc Giauque.

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