Obama goes after health insurers in weekly address

President Barack Obama on Saturday took square aim at health insurance companies who he says are holding up reform with “deceptive and dishonest ads” and “studies designed to mislead the American people.”

Obama’s comments came days after the Senate Finance Committee passed its version of a healthcare bill with the support of centrist Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine).

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Obama cited unprecedented progress in the long-elusive quest for reform.

“For the first time ever, all five committees in Congress responsible for health reform have passed a version of legislation,” he said. “As I speak to you today, we are closer to reforming the healthcare system than we have ever been in history.”

Obama went on to unleash a series of attacks on insurers, who he accused of looking after their own pocketbooks at the expense of an unsustainable system.

He cast the insurers as a force for the status quo and said they are “flooding Capitol Hill with lobbyists and campaign contributions” to prevent a bill from passing.

But he said they are acting dishonestly.

“It’s smoke and mirrors. It’s bogus. And it’s all too familiar,” Obama said. “Every time we get close to passing reform, the insurance companies produce these phony studies as a prescription and say, ‘Take one of these, and call us in a decade.’ Well, not this time.

“In fact, the insurance industry is rolling out the big guns and breaking open their massive war chest – to marshal their forces for one last fight to save the status quo.”

The health care bills in the Senate remain on a difficult path, despite Snowe’s support having allowed Democratic leaders and Obama to claim a degree of bipartisanship.

In a nod to congressional Democrats who have been hesitant to embrace his cause, Obama suggested that voters who put the party in power with large majorities gave it a mandate.

He cast the battle with insurers as a test of something greater than an isolated policy initiative.

“Passing health insurance reform is a great test of this proposition,” Obama said. “Yes, it will make a profound and positive difference in the lives of the American people. But it also now represents something more: whether or not we as a nation are capable of tackling our toughest challenges, if we can serve the national interest despite the unrelenting efforts of the special interests; if we can still do big things in America.”