U.S. President Barack Obama addressed a joint session of Congress in Washington Wednesday night, making a fresh push for one centerpiece of his domestic agenda -- health reform.
To make his case, the president noted two key flaws of the current U.S. health care system.
He reminded lawmakers that the United States is "the only wealthy nation" on earth without universal health insurance coverage.
Some 15 percent, or 45 million Americans, do not have health insurance, according to government statistics.
Moreover, the president said, the problem that plagues the health care system is not just a problem of the uninsured, and "those who do have insurance have never had less security and stability than they do today."
Obama then went on to another major flaw of the U.S. healthcare system -- the out-of-control increase in costs.
"We spend one-and-a-half times more per person on health care than any other country, but we aren't any healthier for it."
The United States spends more money on health care than any other nation: 2.5 trillion U.S. dollars annually and over 8,000 U.S. dollars per person, and yet its average life expectancy ranks at the bottom of all developed nations.
Obama noted that current system is simply unsustainable in a fiscal sense.
"Our health care system is placing an unsustainable burden on taxpayers. Put simply, our healthcare problem is our deficit problem," he said.
Detailing his reform plan, Obama said there are three objectives.
"It will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance. It will provide insurance to those who don't. And it will slow the growth of health care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government."
First, for those who already have health insurance through their jobs, "nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have," and what this plan will do is to "make the insurance you have work better for you."
Second, for those who do not have health insurance, the plan "will finally offer you quality, affordable choices."
Thirdly, for those individuals and small businesses who still can not afford the lower-priced insurance, "we will provide tax credits, the size of which will be based on your need."
Obama said under his plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance and businesses will be required to either offer their workers healthcare, or chip in to help cover the cost of their workers.
"While there remain some significant details to be ironed out, I believe a broad consensus exists for the aspects of the plan I just outlined: consumer protections for those with insurance, an exchange that allows individuals and small businesses to purchase affordable coverage, and a requirement that people who can afford insurance get insurance," he said.
In the speech, Obama blamed partisan fight for delaying the pace of reform and called for cooperation between Democrats and Republicans.
In recent months, the president has intensified efforts to mobilize support for the healthcare reform, yet the Congress missed his target to work out a unified plan before the August summer recess.
There are growing protests nationwide against "Obamacare" fueled by Republicans and big businesses.
More importantly, polls show Americans are growingly skeptical of the president's plan with more people opposing it now than those who endorse it.
Obama also faced a split in his own party over how to best go about reforming the nation's healthcare system.
"Well the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action," the president said in the speech.
"Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do. Now is the time to deliver on health care," he said.
Currently, the healthcare debate in the United States focuses on two issues: whether to provide a public option for health insurance and how to control costs.
But in the speech, Obama didn't state clear whether he will adopt public option in his plan and how exactly he will control the costs.
Five congressional committees have drafted three different versions of healthcare reform legislation, and working out a final draft for vote in both House and the Senate will take some time.
Analysts predict that with a strong Democratic majority in Congress, Obama still has good chances to see the Congress pass a healthcare reform legislation within this year.
However, it will not be an even path before he gets to that point and more importantly, he may miss some of his original goals.
(Xinhua News Agency September 10, 2009)