TRANSCRIPT: 'Questions for the President: Prescription for America'

controversial subject of whether there needs to be a public option,

whether there needs to be government-run insurance as one of the options

to get more people insured, and for the general nature of health care

reform.

Your critics on the Republican side of the Senate Finance Committee

wrote you a letter and said: "At a time when major government programs

like Medicare and Medicaid are already on a path to fiscal insolvency,

creating a brand new program will not only worsen our long-term

financial outlook, but also negatively impact American families who

enjoy private coverage for their insurance."

What do you say to them?

OBAMA: They're wrong.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: And so let's just explain as clearly as possible what we're

talking about. What we want to do, as I said before, was set up a health

care exchange, or a marketplace. Essentially giving the American people

the same kind of options that members of Congress do or federal

employees do.

There is a range of options that are available. Private insurers will

participate. You will be able to do some one-stop shopping and compare

all of the different plans, what kind of benefits they provide, what are

the deductibles, figure out what is best for you.

Now what we've said is, as one option among multiple options, should be

a public option where we set up an insurer that isn't profit-driven,

that can keep administrative costs low, and that can serve as

competition to the private insurers.

Now what -- the argument that has been made has been that somehow the

public option will crowd out private insurers.

GIBSON: It's not a level playing field.

OBAMA: And that's the argument, that it's not a level playing field. And

what we've said is, it wouldn't be a level playing field if the

government can just print money and subsidize that public plan so that

premiums are a lot lower than costs and doctors are getting reimbursed a

lot lower than they do in the private sector. Well, that's true. It also

wouldn't be a very good plan.

But what we've said is that we can set up a public option in which

they're collecting premiums, just like any private insurer, that doctors

are reimbursed at a fair rate, but, because administrative costs are

lower, we are able to keep private insurers honest in terms of the

growth of costs of premiums and deductibles and so forth.

Now, you'll always hear folks say that the free market can do it better,

government can't run anything. And what I say, well, if that's the case,

nobody is going to choose the public option.

So, you know, the private insurers who I think are very confident that

they're providing a good service and a good product to their customers

should feel confident that they can compete with just one other option.

A lot of the objection to the public option idea is not practical. It's

ideological. People don't like the idea of government being involved.

But keep in mind that the two areas where government is involved -- are

involved in health care, Medicare and the V.A., actually there's pretty

high satisfaction among the people who participate.

GIBSON: Well, Diane is here with the head -- with the head of a major

insurance company.

SAWYER: If I could, I'm going to bring in Ron Williams from Aetna, CEO

of Aetna. And if I can reverse the order a little bit, Mr. President,

I'd like to ask a question of him and then let you come in on his answer.

OBAMA: Absolutely.

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