Obama pushes public-insurance option on the road

President Obama, selling his healthcare reform plan on the road in Green Bay, Wis., told a townhall meeting that he believes any plan should include a "public insurance option," or what Republicans are calling "government-run healthcare."

In describing his "health insurance exchange," Obama told the audience that he supports the public option "because if the private insurance companies have to compete with a public option, it will keep them honest and help keep prices down."

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Obama said his exchange would offer those looking for healthcare a "one-stop shop for a healthcare plan, [to] compare benefits and prices, and choose the plan that’s best for you.

"None of these plans would be able to deny coverage on the basis of a pre-existing condition, and all should include an affordable, basic benefit package," Obama said. "And if you can’t afford one of the plans, we should provide assistance to make sure you can."

But Republicans and some stakeholders in the debate are howling about the cost and inefficiencies that could come with such a plan. Earlier in the day, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on MSNBC that the plan could cost as much as $1.2 trillion.

Administration officials have insisted throughout the week that the plan would be deficit-neutral, and the president pledged Thursday to unveil more savings that can be found by eliminating waste. One official said earlier this week that Obama will announce in coming days an additional $200 billion to $300 billion in savings.

The president said that the plan "will obviously cost a good deal of money at a time where we don’t have extra to spend. That’s why I have already promised that reform will not add to our deficit over the next 10 years."

But he added that even with the savings he has identified, "reform will require additional sources of revenue."

"That’s why I’ve proposed that we scale back how much the highest-income Americans can deduct on their taxes back to the rate from the Reagan years — and use that money to help finance healthcare," Obama said.

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Antonia Ferrier, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), said that while Republicans support healthcare reform, the costs of Democrats' proposals are too high.

"Republicans support ways of controlling skyrocketing healthcare costs that are consuming families' budgets," Ferrier said. "But let’s get real here: Everyone knows that these modest cost-saving proposals won’t get them anywhere close to paying for their plan, and that’s what’s making Democrats nervous."

Obama, who will address his plan in Chicago on Monday at a meeting of the American Medical Association, has spent the week tying healthcare reform to the ever-growing deficit.

"For the government, the growing cost of Medicare and Medicaid is one of the biggest threats to our federal deficit," Obama said. "Bigger than Social Security. Bigger than all the investments we’ve made so far. So if you’re worried about spending and you’re worried about deficits, you need to be worried about the cost of healthcare."

The president also promised the crowd that "if you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor."

"If you like your healthcare plan, you will be able to keep your healthcare plan," Obama said. "So don't let people scare you."