EXCLUSIVE: President Obama Defends Right to Choose Best Care

"We would raise enough money to actually make sure this thing is paid for," Obama said in the ABC interview. "Now members of Congress may have other ideas about how best to do this. I'm happy to listen to them."

Conrad said that limiting deductions is "still on the table" in the committee's discussions.

While the details are hammered out on Capitol Hill, there is a legislative push and pull and shifting positions at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

As a candidate, then-Sen. Obama bashed his rival for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, for proposing that Americans be mandated to have health insurance.

"She'd have the government force you to buy health insurance," he said Feb. 23, 2008. "I disagree with that approach. I believe that the reason Americans don't have health care isn't because no one's forced them to buy it, it's because no one's made it affordable."

But now the president is acknowledging that his thinking on the issue has "evolved" and he could support a law mandating that individuals purchase health care coverage, with fines for those who do not.

Obama stressed that there must be some kind of waiver for those who are simply unable to afford it.

"People have made some pretty compelling arguments to me that if we want to have a system that drives down costs for everybody, then we've got to have healthier people not opt out of the system," the president told ABC News.

Earlier this month in a letter to congressional leaders working on the reform legislation, Obama said he would consider supporting such a measure, if it has room for exemptions for small businesses and individuals who cannot afford the premiums.

Obama's Approval Ratings on Health Care Slip

With the health care debate ramping up, with Republicans assailing Democrats for the high price tag and a public option plan, Obama's ratings on the subject slipped slightly in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll.

Only 53 percent of Americans approve of Obama's handling of health care while 39 percent disapprove of it, up from 29 percent who disapproved in April, according to the poll.

Concluding the health care forum, Obama expressed optimism that reform is possible.

"If the American people get behind this, this is going to happen," the president said.

ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf contributed to this report.

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