Obama hits back at critics of health plan

During the 24-minute speech, he pressed all emotional buttons to win support

During a 45-minute address to a rare joint session of Congress, Obama was frequently interrupted by loud cheers from Democrats, while Republicans stayed seated, shaking their heads, waving their own version of a health reform bill, scowling or studiously looking at their mobiles. The rawness of the issue was underlined when a Republican heckled Obama, shouting: “You lie” – an unusual incident in a country where the president, as head of state, is normally listened to out of respect. Democrats booed the heckler, who was later identified as Joe Wilson, a member of the House of Representatives.

With polls showing support for both Obama and his healthcare plan slipping, he pressed all the emotional buttons, including quoting from a letter from the late Ted Kennedy, written in May, calling for health reform this year. In the gallery, invited by Obama, were more than a dozen people who had suffered at the hands of unscrupulous insurance companies.

In his speech, broadcast across the nation on primetime television, he expressed a determination to push through reform that presidents had been trying to put on the statute book since Theodore Roosevelt a century ago.

“I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last,” he said. Calling for closure on the heated town hall debates of the summer, he said: “The time for bickering is over.”

One of Obama’s central messages was the improvement of coverage for those with insurance, making it illegal for insurance companies to deny people payment because of prior medical conditions. “As soon as I sign this bill, it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it most,” he said.

“They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime.”Obama said a majority of Americans supported the public option. But, significantly, he added: “To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage affordable for those without it.

Accusing Republican opponents of “scare tactics”, Obama said: “I will not stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are.”

The Guardian

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