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

DAVID HATTENFIELD, Cornerstone Baptist Church, Cumberland, MD: Yes, I guess the -- the -- first of all, I'd like to -- just to say it is good to be here this evening.

OBAMA: Thank you, David.

HATTENFIELD: With the -- with the cost of health care, you know,

I'm pretty satisfied with my own plan. It's not everything that it

should be or could be, but I am concerned that -- of the government

taking over health care. And, you know, Social Security isn't -- isn't

doing real well. At least that's what we're being told. And how can we

know that the government is going to be able to handle the cost of

health care? Isn't that going to tax me? Isn't it going to be taxing my

benefits, those kind of things?

OBAMA: Right. Well, look, I think it's a very legitimate question. I

guess that the first point I'd make is, if we don't do anything, costs

are going to go out of control. Nobody disputes this.

Medicare and Medicaid are the single biggest drivers of the federal

deficit and the federal debt by a huge margin. And at the pace at which

they're going up, if we don't do some of the things that we've talked

about tonight, you know, changing how we pay for quality instead of

quantity, making sure that we are investing in prevention, all those

game-changers that I discussed earlier, if we don't do those things,

Medicare and Medicaid are going to be broke, and it will consume all of

the federal budget.

Every program that currently exists under the federal budget, except

defense and entitlements, all that would be swept aside by the cost of

health care if we do nothing. So that's point number one.

Point number two is that a lot of what we're talking about is

reallocating existing health care dollars that are not being spent

wisely. And almost everybody agrees that there is a lot of room for us

to improve how we're spending existing health care dollars.

And point number three. There is going to be a need initially for some

additional revenue. And I talked about our suggestion -- my

administration's suggestion the best way to do that, capping itemized

deductions for people making over $250,000 a year.

But I also believe that if we are doing this right and we're bending the

curve on health care, then you who keeps a private plan will see

reductions in your out-of-pocket costs over time.

So that instead of your health care premiums going up three times your

wages over the next decade, it may only go up by the amount that

inflation goes up generally. And that's real money in your pocket.

That's real savings that would offset any potential increases.

By the way, I suspect that Charlie and I, again, 2-3 percent of the

population, we're the ones who would see our taxes go up a little bit to

pay for that initial outlay.

GIBSON: But let me -- on this tax question, let me get to this issue of

taxing health care benefits.

OBAMA: Right.

GIBSON: It isn't -- there is a massive amount of money that employers

pay for health care benefits, and it is not taxed for me or anybody else

in this room. You went after John McCain when he suggested taxing that

money. That we would have to pay taxes on that.

Should we pay taxes on that? A lot of people question whether there is

enough money to pay for all of this.

OBAMA: Right.

GIBSON: Are you willing to entertain the idea of taxing health care

benefits?

OBAMA: Well, I continue to strongly disagree with John McCain's plan

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