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Obama Makes Closing Arguments On Health Care

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

President Obama has begun an aggressive final push on health care. Members of Congress are already eyeing November's midterm elections and increasingly wary of tough votes. This morning the president took his argument for health care reform to Arcadia University outside Philadelphia. He attacked insurance companies for blocking efforts to fix the system in order to protect big profits, he said. Mr. Obama also accused his Republican critics of failing to address the health care crisis when they control the White House and Congress.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports from Philadelphia.

DON GONYEA: The White House wants Americans to see the debate over health care as something personal. So, today Mr. Obama was introduced by Leslie Banks(ph). She's a self-employed, single mother with diabetes. She was informed in January that she has to pay a 100 percent increase in her insurance premiums or lose prescription drug coverage and see her deductible increase tenfold.

Ms. LESLIE BANKS: Well, when I called my insurance carrier to ask what was going on, they told me it was an across the board adjustment. I wasn't being singled out. Clearly that was true. But it didn't make me feel better to know that they were gouging everybody.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BANKS: I was horrified.

GONYEA: Banks then turned the floor over to the president. This was billed as a speech, but it was very much a rally.

President BARACK OBAMA: I'm kind of fired up.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Pres. OBAMA: I'm kind of fired up.

GONYEA: And just like a campaign needs an opponent to go after, so too does this legislation. And the president is targeting big insurance.

Pres. OBAMA: And the insurance companies continue to ration health care based on who's sick and who's healthy, on who can pay and who can't pay. That's the status quo in America. And it is a status quo that is unsustainable for this country. We can't have a system that works better for the insurance companies than it does for the American people.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GONYEA: The president portrayed the health care legislation he supports as the product of real compromise, something the White House says gets lost amid all the partisan rancor.

Pres. OBAMA: ...approach health care. On one side of the spectrum, there were those at the beginning of this process who wanted to scrap our system of private insurance and replace it with a government-run health care system like they have in some other countries.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GONYEA: Despite those big cheers for a so-called single-payer system, the president said, even if it works in Canada, it's not practical or realistic for the U.S.

Pres. OBAMA: On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who believe that the answer is just to loosen regulations on insurance companies. This is what we heard at the health care summit. They said, well, you know what? If we had fewer regulations on the insurance companies...

(Soundbite of booing)

GONYEA: The president said that a lack of regulation created many of the problems the system has today. As for Republicans who still call the bill a government takeover, Mr. Obama said such rhetoric is typical of a Washington that only views health care in terms of what it will mean for the next election. And he had this very blunt attack on Republicans who say he's trying to do too much.

Pres. OBAMA: I got all my Republican colleagues out there saying, well, no, no, no, we want to focus on things like cost. You had 10 years.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Pres. OBAMA: What happened?

GONYEA: This was a very friendly audience for the president. Afterwards, some expressed optimism that this big push will be enough to win passage of a health care bill. But others said they worry that the best chance for success may have passed, that these arguments should've been made more forcefully months ago. President Obama, meanwhile, holds another health care rally in St. Louis on Wednesday.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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