President Obama offered details to Congress and the American people Wednesday night on his prescription for the nation's health care system, including plans for an "exchange" in which the uninsured may shop for competitive prices.
Speaking before a packed U.S. Capitol and addressing House and Senate members and cabinet members, Obama outlined a proposal for a plan that would cost $900 billion over 10 years, "...less than we have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and less than the tax cuts for the wealthiest few Americans that Congress passed at the beginning of the previous administration."
Obama also made reference to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., who died last month of brain cancer and who'd fought for health-care reform before his death. Kennedy's widow, Vicki, who appeared visibly moved, and sons, Patrick and Ted Jr., looked on from the audience.
"On issues like these, Ted Kennedy's passion was born not of some rigid ideology, but of his own experience," Obama said. "It was the experience of having two children stricken with cancer."
Ted Kennedy Jr. lost a leg to bone cancer as a child. Another of the late senator's children, Kara Kennedy Allen, has battled lung cancer.
Some of the details of the plan the president shared Wednesday night:
• Those who already have insurance through jobs, Medicare, Medicaid or the VA will not be required to change.
• It will be illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions.
• Cap on out-of-pocket expenses.
• If you lose your job or change jobs, or start your own business, you can shop for new insurance via an exchange that allows you to shop at competitive prices.
"Everyone understands the extraordinary hardships that are placed on the uninsured, who live every day just one accident or illness away from bankruptcy," Obama told the crowd. "These are not primarily people on welfare. These are middle-class Americans. Some can't get insurance on the job. Others are self-employed and can't afford it ... Many other Americans who are willing and able to pay are still denied insurance due to previous illnesse or conditions that insurance companies decide are too risky or expensive to cover."
Obama added, "We are the only advanced democracy on earth — the only wealthy nation — that allows such hardships for millions of its people."
He shared horror stories of patients, including one man who lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because his insurer learned he had not reported gallstones that he didn't know about. That man died, the president said. Another woman had her policy canceled as she was about the undergo a double mastectomy because she had not declared a case of acne. By the time she got her insurance back, her breast cancer had doubled in size, Obama said.
"That is heart-breaking, it is wrong, and no one should be treated that way in the United States of America," the president said.
"Know this: I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill this plan than improve it," the excerpts read. "I will not stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent what's in the plan, we wil call you out. And I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now."