US president pushes healthcare plan

Barack Obama says swift passage of bill to overhaul healthcare needed to curb deficit.

    Obama is seeking a bill that will provide Americans near-universal healthcare [AFP]

    'Consequences of inaction'

    The healthcare lobby

    The health industry has spent $127m on lobbying the US government in the first quarter of 2009 alone, says the non-partisan Centre for Responsive Politics

    Fifteen health-related associations and companies have each reported spending at least $1m on lobbying during the second quarter

    They are fighting for a stake in a US healthcare plan that could cost more than $1 trillion over the next decade

    Including its latest spending report, the American Medical Association has now spent $8.2m on lobbying the government so far this year

    Eli Lilly, a pharmaceutical firm, has reported spending $7m on lobbying expenses for 2009 - $4.6m in the second quarter alone

    Other major health industry lobbyists include Glaxosmithkline ($2.3m spent in the second quarter), Bayer ($1.9m) and America's Health Insurance Plans ($1.9m).

    Obama's appeal for democrats and republicans to find consensus on a healthcare bill comes as the country faces its largest annual budget deficit in history.

    It has already crossed the $1 trillion mark nine months into the fiscal year and the government has projected a $1.8 trillion deficit by the end of the fiscal year in September.

    Overall US debt now stands at $11.5 trillion.

    The changes to US healthcare provision are intended to provide an alternative to private insurers, while granting coverage to most uninsured Americans and hold down rising healthcare costs.

    Failure to make sweeping changes to the system will mean thousands more Americans will find themselves unable to pay for the rising cost of private health insurance, Obama said in the primetime address.

    "If we do not act, 14,000 Americans will continue to lose their health insurance every single day. These are the consequences of inaction. These are the stakes of the debate we're having right now," he said.

    Obama has set a deadline of August 7 for legislators to design a healthcare bill that will provide coverage to millions of uninsured Americans.

    The American Medical Association has given its support to Obama's broad healthcare overhaul goals, saying "the status quo is unacceptable".

    Pharmaceutical companies and many hospitals also support the plan, and the democrat-controlled House of Representatives, the lower house in the US congress, has already come up with a reform package which would involve imposing a tax on wealthy households to finance the measures.

    Opposition mounting

    But the bill is likely to face stern opposition in the US senate.

    A group of conservative democrats and many republicans have expressed concerns over the cost of the House bill, saying that the $1 trillion-plus price tag is too high as the US struggles to overcome a recession.

    John Boehner, the House republican leader, said "if they try to fix our healthcare system like they've tried to rescue our economy, I think we're in really, really big trouble".

    The US senate finance committee is working on its own version of a healthcare package that aims to prevent additional taxes on high-earners.

    Obama's approval rating has dropped amid concerns about his handling of the healthcare system and his support on the issue has fallen to below 50 per cent, according to a Washington Post poll published on Wednesday.

    But the president is aggressively pushing the reforms, meeting rebellious House democrats on Tuesday and scheduling healthcare events throughout the week.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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