‘I Am Very Worried About Federal Spending,’ Obama Says in Defense of His Trillion-Dollar Health Care Overhaul

July 23, 2009 - 5:06 AM
Obama told a prime time news conference that more needs to be done to lower the federal budget deficit. "But health care reform is not going to add to that deficit. It's designed to lower it," he insisted.

President Barack Obama responds to questions at a White House news conference on Wednesday, July 22, 2009. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

White House (CNSNews.com) – At his prime-time news conference Wednesday night, President Barack Obama ducked a question on whether he’d opt for a public health plan himself; criticized insurance companies for making profits; and vowed that a health care overhaul package would be entirely paid for by the wealthy – and not add to the federal budget deficit.
 
Obama said opponents of his health care plan have used the “deficit” argument effectively “to suggest that somehow this (health care overhaul) is one more government program.” He also admitted that the American people “are understandably queasy about the huge deficits and debt that we're facing right now.”
 
Obama noted several times that he inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit, and he described the nation’s debt and deficit as “deep concerns of mine.”
 
“I am very worried about federal spending,” Obama said. He said more needs to be done to lower the deficit. “But health care reform is not going to add to that deficit. It's designed to lower it. That's part of the reason why it's so important to do, and to do now.”
 
So how is the plan going to be paid for?
 
“I have also pledged that health insurance reform will not add to our deficit over the next decade – and I mean it,” Obama said. He said health insurance reform will be paid for: “Already, we have estimated that two-thirds of the cost of reform can be paid for by reallocating money that is simply being wasted in federal health care programs.” 
 
A short time later, Obama said he would make sure that the plan “doesn’t add to the deficit in the short term.” In the long term, he said any bill he signs must show the growth of health care costs. He stressed giving doctors and nurses “incentives” to “give patients the best care, not just the most expensive care.”
 
Tax the millionaires
 
Obama said the middle class will not shoulder the burden for reform, which the
Congressional Budget Office has estimated in excess of $1 trillion. Instead, Obama seemed to throw his support behind a House Democratic plan pushed by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel that would generate $540 billion through a “surtax” on top income earners.
 
“If I see a proposal that is primarily funded through taxing middle-class families, I’m going to be opposed to that because I think there are better ideas to do it,” Obama said.
 
Admitting that he has not yet seen the Senate Finance Committee’s bill, Obama pointed instead to the House of Representatives: “The House suggested a surcharge on wealthy Americans,” he said. “And my understanding, although I haven’t seen the final versions, is that there has been talk about making that basically only apply to families whose joint income is $1 million.”
 
Obama used his prime time news conference Wednesday to plug his massive health care “reform” plan to a skeptical public. "If we do not reform health care, your premiums and out-of-pocket costs will continue to skyrocket," Obama warned. "If we do not act, 14,000 Americans will continue to lose their health insurance every single day."
 
In recent days, however, even some Democrats have expressed reservations about the speed with which Obama is trying to ram through the plan. Some Democrats have said there is no way Congress will have a plan on Obama’s desk before their August recess.
 
Obama on Wednesday night again stressed the need for a plan that will include government-run insurance (a “public option”) to compete with private insurers.
 
But when asked if Obama, “as a symbolic gesture,” would agree to abide by the public option he’s advocating for others, Obama didn’t give a direct answer:
 
“You know, I would be happy to abide by the same benefit package. I will just be honest with you. I’m the president of the United States, so I’ve got a doctor following me every minute, which is why I say this is not about me,” Obama answered. “I’ve got the best health care in the world. I’m trying to make sure that everybody has good health care, and they don’t right now.”
 
Obama again took a swipe at private insurance companies during the news conference, as he explained the need for a public option.
 
“Now, you know, there had been reports just over the last couple of days of insurance companies making record profits. Right now, at the time when everybody’s getting hammered, they’re making record profits and premiums are going up,” Obama said.
 
“What’s the constraint on that? How can -- how can you ensure that those costs aren’t being passed onto employers or passed onto employees, the American people, ordinary middle-class families, in a way that over time is going to make them broke? Well, part of the way is to make sure that there’s some competition out there.”
 
He further talked about how the for-profit system might prompt doctors to do procedures that are not in a patient’s interest.
 
“Right now, doctors a lot of times are forced to make decisions based on the fee payment schedule that’s out there,” Obama said. “So if they’re looking and you come in and you’ve got a bad sore throat or your child has a bad sore throat or has repeated sore throats, the doctor may look at the reimbursement system and say to himself, ‘You know what? I make a lot more money if I take this kid’s tonsils out.’
 
“Now, that may be the right thing to do, but I’d rather have that doctor making those decisions just based on whether you really need your kid’s tonsils out or whether it might make more sense just to change -- maybe they have allergies.”
 
Obama also explained why he’s insisting on an August deadline for getting a health care bill to his desk: “I’m rushed because I get letters every day from families that are being clobbered by health care costs. And they ask me, ‘Can you help?,’” the president said. He mentioned the parents of a girl with leukemia who are about to go bankrupt.
 
“The second thing is the fact that, if you don’t set deadlines in this town, things don’t happen,” Obama said.
 
In response to a question about declining support from Democrats, Obama said he believes he will sign a health care bill.
 
“In terms of Democrats, the fact of the matter is that because this is a big issue, I think that a lot of Democrats have a lot of different ideas. Some of them had to do with regional disparities,” Obama said. He later added, “I’m confident at the end we’re going to have a bill that Democrats and some Republicans support.”