Obama calls for universal health care

Seeking to add heft to his presidential bid, Democrat Barack Obama is offering a sweeping plan that would require every American to have health coverage and calls on government, businesses and consumers to share the costs of the program.

Obama said putting in place universal health coverage has been debated for decades, but the time has finally come to act. He said his plan could save the average consumer $2,500 a year and bring health care to all.

"The time has come for universal, affordable health care in America," Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery at the unveiling of his plan Tuesday in Iowa City.

A copy of his remarks and documents describing the program were obtained by The Associated Press.

Under Obama's proposal, every American would be required to carry health insurance, and the Illinois senator would create a National Health Insurance Exchange to monitor insurance companies in offering the coverage. In essence, Obama's plan retains the private insurance system but injects additional money into the system to pay for the expanded coverage.

Those who can't afford coverage would get a subsidy on a sliding scale depending on their income, and virtually all businesses would have to share in the cost of coverage for their workers. The plan that would be offered would be similar to the one covering members of Congress.

His package would prohibit insurance companies from refusing coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

"My plan begins by covering every American. If you already have health insurance, the only thing that will change for you under this plan is that the amount of money you will spend on premiums will be less," Obama said. "If you are one of 45 million Americans who don't have health insurance, you will after this plan becomes law."

In addition to broadening coverage, Obama called for a series of steps to overhaul the current health care system. He would spend more money boosting technology in the health industry such as electronic record-keeping, put in place better management for chronic diseases and create a reinsurance pool for catastrophic illnesses to take the burden of their costs off of other premium payers.

His plan also envisions savings from ending the expensive care for the uninsured when they get sick. That care now is often provided at emergency rooms. The plan also would put a heavy focus on preventing disease through lifestyle changes.

In all, Obama said, the typical consumer would save $2,500 a year.

Obama conceded that the overall cost of the program would be high, while not providing a specific number.

"To help pay for this, we will ask all but the smallest businesses who don't make a meaningful contribution to the health coverage of their workers to do so to support this plan," said Obama. "And we also will repeal the temporary Bush tax cut for the wealthiest taxpayers."

Unveiling the proposal marks a crucial step for Obama. Serving in his first term as a senator, Obama often is criticized as not having the experience to be a serious candidate for the party's nomination.

Some also see him as offering more style than substance, and he's clearly hoping that spelling out a detailed plan to offer health care for all will deflect those criticisms. Polls also have shown that voters rank health care as among their top concerns.

Obama says that's the message he's getting on the campaign trail virtually everywhere he goes. He said the current system that's left 45 million people — including 9 million children — without health insurance goes against the nation's basic instincts.

"That is not who we are. We are not a country that rewards hard work and perseverance with bankruptcies and foreclosures," said Obama. "We are not a country that allows major challenges to go unsolved and unaddressed while our people suffer needlessly."

Obama said he would seek to use his presidential campaign as a vehicle to build momentum for changes in the health care system, allowing him to break a gridlock that's lasted since Harry Truman was president.

"In the richest nation on Earth, it is simply not right that the skyrocketing profits of the drug and insurance industries are paid for by the skyrocketing premiums that come from the pockets of the American people," he said.

Obama said several states already had taken up health care initiatives on their own. These states would be allowed to retain programs they've crafted, as long as they meet the minimum standards he proposes.

"Every year candidates offer up detailed plans with great fanfare, only to see them crushed under the weight of Washington politics and drug and insurance industry lobbying once the campaign is over," said Obama. "Well, this cannot be one of those years."


  1. cruzn2468

    I am one of those folks without insurance at this time. For 9 of the last ten years I had insurance, and paid well for it, but used it very little. I know that I basically subsidized my fellow workers (My boss must have used ten times what he paid in). Now I had one incident, and had to go to the ER for treatment because of my situation. The cost for those two hours was $1,500. No way I can pay that now. I can’t even afford to follow up on the recommended treatment.

    Why am I without insurance? I chose to quit my full time job and go back to school.

    This country can afford to take care of me and others like me in these times when we are without coverage. It’s about time it did.

  2. LPM

    dearest cruzn2468,
    First off, your comment “This country can afford to take care of me and others like me in these times when we are without coverage. It’s about time it did.” is a bit vague.. why not just be plain about what you want: Take money from other people by force and use it provide healthcare for yourself – sweet deal, if you can get it! The problem with using government as your ‘club’ is that it will be used against you sooner than later.

    Let’s take another perspective on your sad tale of health care. Let’s say that instead of paying for insurance for those past 9 years, you instead paid into a medical savings account… how much did the insurance cost you up to that point you stopped purchasing it? I bet ALOT more than $1500, and all the rest of it would STILL be available for future emergencies. Here is the best part though: You don’t need to go around having government steal money to pay for your expenses! Wow! Both self-reliant AND moral, all in one fell swoop!

    I think the best way to accomplish this is through a combination of crisis medical insurance (like the very expense stuff) and a medical savings account. As the account builds, the less insurance is necessary to purchase until the person eventually becomes ‘self-insured’ (well, unless fate bestows some terrible accident upon them of course)

    Sorry about my tone, but the implication that ‘this country’ (where you really mean ‘other people’) somehow ‘owes’ you your medical care just ruffled my feathers. I am empathetic about your situation and wish you well in the future.

    I really wish folks would understand that there is no way that ANY government medical plan will result in a ‘savings’ of costs. The government does not create wealth, only people do, so the only thing it can do is rearrange how that wealth is divided and take a piece of the pie for itself. But that cannot result in an ‘average’ savings of $2,500!!!!!! The ‘average’ will be the same or less given the same initial money avaiable. Don’t be bamboozled by ‘feel-good politics’ – it can’t work in the real world.