Obama to AARP: Health Care Reform “Not That Costly If We Start Making Changes Right Now”

By Kate Barrett

Jul 28, 2009 4:29pm

ABC News’ Karen Travers Reports: As lawmakers on Capitol Hill continued to work on health care reform legislation, President Obama took his case to the nation’s retirees in a tele-town hall meeting at the AARP studios in Washington, a setting that resembled a coffee shop open mic night.

The president took 10 questions, from the in-studio audience and several from callers on the phone around the nation.

Obama did not issue any strong words or ultimatums for members of Congress, but did try to calm fears over the price tag on the pending legislation.

“You know, you get these stories where, oh, there’s a trillion dollars here, a trillion dollars there, after a while, it starts being real money, even here in Washington,” he said. “And so I understand people being scared that this is going to be way too costly. It’s not that costly if we start making changes right now.”

In his opening remarks, Obama noted that today was the 44th anniversary of Congress passing legislation to create Medicare and said that the debate going on on Capitol Hill today is similar to the debate back in 1965. “Everybody who was in favor of the status quo was trying to scare the American people, saying somehow that the government is going to take over your health care, you won’t be able to choose your own doctor, they’re going to ration care, they’re going to tell you, you can’t get this or that or the other,” he said of the conversation over Medicare back then. “And you know what?  Medicare has been extraordinary popular.  It has worked.  It has made people a lot healthier, given them security. And we can do the same this time. Obama had a brief moment of candor, expressing his frustration over the current health care debate. “We’re not going to have a perfect health care system. It’s a complicated system. There are always going to be some problems out there. But we could be doing a lot better than we’re doing right now,” he said. Obama addressed worries of one caller, Mary in North Carolina, who said she has heard a lot of rumors about the new plan containing a provision where “everyone that’s Medicare age will be visited and told to decide how they wish to die” Obama first deflected the woman’s concerns with a joke. “I guarantee you, first of all, we just don’t have enough government workers to send to talk to everybody to find out how they want to die,” he said. He went on to explain that what is being proposed in some of the bills would actually make it easier for Americans to fill out a living will. He cited his grandmother, who passed away last October, and how a living will “gave her some control ahead of time” and gave her “some decision-making power over the process.”

“So I think the idea there is to simply make sure that a living will process is easier for people.  It doesn’t require you to hire a lawyer or — or to take up a lot of time, but everything is going to be up to you,” the president said. 

Obama stressed that the government is not going to force anyone into end-of-life decisions.

“Nobody is going to be knocking on your door. Nobody is going to be telling you, you’ve got to fill one out. And certainly nobody is going to be forcing you to make a set of decisions on end-of-life care based on, you know, some bureaucratic law in Washington.”

- Karen Travers

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