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Obama confronts Congress

US president faces critics in Congress as he quantifies the investment needed to support his new healthcare vision

US president Barak Obama has added flesh to the bones of his radical healthcare reforms in a rare address to a joint session of Congress. Vowing not to delay the proposed overhaul, he faced his critics head on accusing some Republicans of employing "scare tactics" to win favour with the nation.

For the first time since announcing his reform agenda, Obama put a price tag of around $900bn over 10 years on his plan – an investment he justified by saying it would cost "less than we have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars".

In his speech, the president focused on detailing why such a shift was necessary, while attempting to reassure the elderly and the 180 million Americans who currently have health insurance that they would not be worse off if medical care was made more readily available to the poor and those suffering from chronic diseases.

He reiterated his support for a government health insurance plan to compete with costly private sector offerings, but said he would consider other options.

On the topic of insurance, the president outlined a proposal that would make it illegal for health insurers to withdraw policies for sick people or deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. Under his plans, every American citizen would have health coverage, in the same way that all drivers have car insurance, he said.

He also endorsed plans contained in a draft proposal from Montana Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Max Baucus, to fund expanding health coverage by taxing insurance companies that offer expensive "gold-plated" policies.

In a bid to ward off further criticism about the impact of the healthcare reform on the public purse, Obama promised to include a provision that "requires us to come forward with more spending cuts" if the forecast savings do not become a reality. 

Obama did not mince his words as he made this address, saying: "The time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action." However, throughout his almost hour-long speech, he insisted that he had not dismissed reaching a bipartisan agreement and embraced Republican Senator John McCain's proposal to create a 'high-risk' fund to help those with pre-existing conditions avoid paying enormous fees for healthcare.

10th September 2009

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