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« House GOP Leaders React to Health Care Speech | Blog Home Page | DeMint Joins Rubio In DC Tomorrow »

Raising Health Care Stakes, Obama Defends Public Option

President Obama made the case for significant health care reform before a skeptical organization of physicians today, balancing assurances to the American people with dire warnings about what could happen without reform.

"The cost of our health care is a threat to our economy," he said. "It's an escalating burden on our families and businesses. It's a ticking time bomb for the federal budget. And it is unsustainable for the United States of America."

When the president was selling his stimulus plan months ago, he offered a similarly gloomy picture of what could happen if the bill didn't pass, saying once that the economy might never recover. Today he said the United States could go the way of General Motors: "paying more, getting less, and going broke."

"When it comes to the cost of our health care, then, the status quo is unsustainable," he said at the Chicago gathering in what was the longest speech of his presidency to date.

At the heart of his speech was a defense of his plan for a public insurance option; he even told the AMA audience that it was "not your enemy," but their friend. And he strongly rejected the claims of "naysayers" that a public plan was a "Trojan horse" to bring about single-payer or "government-run" health care.

"They're not telling the truth," he said. "What a public option will help do is put affordable health care within reach for millions of Americans. And to help ensure that everyone can afford the cost of a health care option in our exchange, we need to provide assistance to families who need it. That way, there will be no reason at all for anyone to remain uninsured."

Leading up to today's speech, the White House floated talk of tort reform as a possible olive branch to physicians. Obama did say he shared the concerns of doctors who "feel like they're constantly looking over their shoulders for fear of lawsuits," but did not say he'd back a cap on malpractice awards.

"But I do think we need to explore a range of ideas about how to put patient safety first, how to let doctors focus on practicing medicine," he said. Later, he also drew applause for saying he wanted to create a situation where doctors aren't "bean-counters and paper-pushers," but healers.

"I need your help, doctors, because, to most Americans, you are the health care system," he said. "Americans -- and I include myself, Michelle, and our kids in this -- we just do what you tell us to do. That's what we do. We listen to you; we trust you. That's why I will listen to you and work with you to pursue reform that works for you."