WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said an overhaul of the U.S. health care system is closer than ever, but he warned of tough battles ahead as major industries such as insurance companies fight hard to preserve their profits.
He spoke Monday night at a pair of Democratic Party fundraisers in Miami. A few hours earlier, Senate leaders had endorsed legislation that would add a government-run health insurance plan for Americans, with states having the right to opt out. Obama did not mention the Senate action, but he predicted success in realizing his top domestic policy priority.
Obama said that America has no choice but to overhaul the health care system to make insurance cheaper for families, businesses and the government.
“It’s going to get harder,” the president told about 200 people who paid $500 each to greet him at a reception. “Now’s the time when all the special interests are saying, ‘Oh, this is really going to happen, we might lose some of our profits.’ And they start paying big lobbyists, and they start twisting arms.”
The focus of the health overhaul debate now shifts to whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can persuade a handful of moderate senators to get behind his new proposal for a government-sponsored insurance plan that would compete with private insurers.
Even Reid didn’t claim to have the 60 votes needed to pass his proposal.
It still amounted to a victory for liberal lawmakers who have pushed for a public insurance option they contend would create needed competition for private insurers and provide affordable choices to consumers.
Government-sponsored insurance had been seen as unlikely to be included in Senate legislation because of opposition from moderates. Republicans have denounced the public option as a “government takeover” of health care.
The House of Representatives’ health care bill, expected to be released as early as this week, is certain to contain a strong provision for a so-called public insurance option, though details aren’t final.
The White House released a statement saying Obama was “pleased that the Senate has decided to include a public option for health coverage, in this case with an allowance for states to opt out.” Obama has long voiced support for such a plan but has also signaled it was not a requirement for a health care bill he would sign.
Changes on the public option — and numerous other provisions in the measure — are possible during a debate expected to last for weeks.
Both the House and Senate are struggling to complete work by year’s end on legislation extending coverage to millions who lack it, banning insurance industry practices such as denying coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions, and slowing the rise in medical costs nationally.