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Obama Continues to Push for Health Reform

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, January 25, 2010

When President Obama steps to the podium for his State of the Union address Wednesday, he will not have a signed healthcare reform bill to hold up. But, despite a turn of events this past week in Massachusetts and signs of discontent in some parts of Congress, he still anticipates that healthcare reform legislation will prevail.

On Friday, at a town hall meeting in Elyria, OH, he put the focus on health insurance practices and affordable care. "Now, since this has been in the news a little bit this week, let me say a little something about healthcare. I had no illusions when I took this on that this was going to be hard," he said.

"Let me tell you why I did it. I knew that insurance premiums had more than doubled in the past decade. I knew that out of pocket expenses had skyrocketed. I knew that millions more people had lost their insurance, and I knew that because of that economic crisis that was only going to get worse," he said.

He added that he "had encountered "a little bit of a buzz saw this week" with the election of Scott Brown to U.S. Senate in Massachusetts—which ends the Democrats’ super majority grip in the Senate. He also encountered dissent in Congress—especially with the House expressing displeasure with the Senate health reform bill.

However, he acknowledged that the "process was so long and so drawn out. This is just what happens in Congress. I mean, it's just an ugly process. You're running headlong into special interests, and armies of lobbyists, and partisan politics that's aimed at exploiting fears instead of getting things done," he said.

White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said on Sunday's "Meet the Press" that "nothing changed about the fact that costs are escalating too high." She added that out of pocket expenses for healthcare were growing, and that many people who do have insurance are losing it because of pre existing conditions.

"The deficit is looming out of control in large part because of healthcare and that small businesses are having to choose between laying off people and paying for healthcare," she said.

Another one of the President's top political advisors, David Alexrod, disagreed with the idea that healthcare reform is dead in Congress. "No, that's not true at all," Axelrod said.

"I think what he's saying is let's take a look at [the reform bills]. There are so many elements of this—tax breaks for small business, extending the life of Medicare, more assistance for seniors with their prescription drugs, a cap on out of pocket expenses, help for people with pre existing conditions—that are too important to walk away from," Axelrod said. "What he's saying is, 'Let's get back to it.'"

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