White House (CNSNews.com) - President Barack Obama said it is “not logical” to think that a government-run health care program competing with private health insurers would eventually drive the private firms out of business.
The concern expressed by many Republicans and some private insurers has been one of the leading arguments against the president’s plan to establish a “public option” health care program.
At a White House press conference on Tuesday, Obama said: “Why would it drive private insurance out of business? If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality health care; if they tell us that they're offering a good deal, then why is it that the government, which they say can't run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That's not logical.”
Obama also said there would be “some healthy debate in Congress” about how the “public option” plan would be implemented.
He further said: “I think there can be some legitimate concerns on the part of private insurers that if any public plan is simply being subsidized by taxpayers endlessly that, over time, they can't compete with the government just printing money, so there are going to be some – I think [there are] legitimate debates to be had about how this private plan takes shape.
“But just conceptually, the notion that all these insurance companies who say they're giving consumers the best possible deal, if they can't compete against a public plan as one option – with consumers making the decision [on] what's the best deal – that defies logic,” said Obama, “which is why I think you've seen in the polling data overwhelming support for a public plan.”
Obama also addressed a Congressional Budget Office report, which estimated the cost of a Senate health care reform plan sponsored by Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) at $1 trillion over 10 years.
“So there's been a lot of talk about, well, a trillion-dollar price tag,” Obama said. “What I've said is, if we're going to spend that much money, then it's going to be largely funded through reallocating dollars that are already in the health care system, but aren't being spent well.”
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), in a statement released after the news conference, objected to Obama’s claim that the “public option” was not the first step toward a single payer system.
“Today, the president again claimed that the Democrats’ government takeover of health care would not force Americans off of their current plans, yet independent analysts have reported that at least 23 million Americans would lose their coverage under the bill drafted by Senate Democrats,” Boehner said.
“House Republicans have introduced a better alternative to make health care more affordable and accessible, ensure that Americans can keep their health plan, and keep doctors and patients, not government bureaucrats, in charge of critical and personal medical decisions,” he said.
Taking several questions, Obama insisted to reporters that the “public option” was not the beginning of an entirely government-owned health system. Rather, it would simply inject more competition into the system, he said.
“Now, the public plan, I think, is an important tool to discipline insurance companies,” the president said. “What we've said is, under our proposal, let's have a system – the same way that federal employees do, same way that members of Congress do – where we call it an exchange, but you can call it a marketplace where, essentially, you've got a whole bunch of different plans.”
“If you like your plan and you like your doctor, you won't have to do a thing. You keep your plan, you keep your doctor,” said Obama. “If your employer's providing you good health insurance, terrific. We're not going to mess with it.”
Obama continued: “But if you're a small-business person, if the insurance that's being offered is something you can't afford, if you want to shop for a better price, then you can go to this exchange, this marketplace, and you can – look, okay, this is how much this plan costs. This is how much that plan costs. This is what the coverage is like. This is what fits for my family.”
Asked whether the final bill would have to contain a public option, Obama said the only deal breaker would be a bill that did not keep costs down.
“We have not drawn lines in the sand, other than that reform has to control costs and that it has to provide relief to people who don't have health insurance or are under-insured,” Obama said. “You know, those are the broad parameters that we've discussed.”