Obama takes aim at health foes

By Nia-Malika Henderson
|  Tuesday, Aug 11, 2009  |  Updated 2:15 PM CDT
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Obama takes aim at health foes

AP

President Obama waves as he arrives at Portsmouth High School in Portsmouth, N.H., for Tuesday's town hall meeting on health care.

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Portsmouth, N.H. – President Obama took direct aim at the vocal opponents who’ve been filling congressional town halls on health care Tuesday, saying despite all the “yelling and the shouting and the noise,” health reform will improve the lives of Americans with and without health insurance.

He also said special interests who oppose health reform always "try to scare the heck out of folks, and they'll create boogeymen out there that just aren't real" to prevent change. He even sought to rebut directly one of the most widespread rumors — that the bills in Congress include so-called “death panels” to decide how much coverage people can receive.

Obama said critics charge that the government will “basically pull the plug on Grandma, because we’ve decided it’s too expensive to let her live anymore” – and denied there is any such thing in the bills. He said the provision that apparently spurred the rumor – coverage for end-of-life decisions and living wills – was actually inserted by a Republican senator, Johnny Isakson of Georgia.

Obama said he's in favor of vigorous debate, but "I do hope we will talk with each other and not over each other, because one of the objectives of democracy and debate is we start refining our own views."

"Where we disagree, let's disagree over things that are real, not these wild misrepresentations that bear no resemblance to what's been proposed."

It was Obama’s most direct attempt to rebut critics of his health reform plans, and he used his own town hall before a friendly crowd here to do it. Seeking to grab the reins of the health care debate which has in the last week devolved into shouting matches at town halls, Obama zeroed in on the millions of Americans who already have health insurance, saying at a packed town hall that reform would mean security and stability for the insured.

“So this is what reform is about, for all the chatter and the yelling and the shouting and the noise, you need to know this, If you don’t have health insurance, you will finally have quality affordable options once we pass reform. If you do have health insurance, we will make sure that no insurance company or government bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need,” Obama said.

He outlined three reforms that would affect the 85 percent of Americans who already have insurance: Under any new plan, insurance companies wouldn’t be allowed to deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions, out-of pocket expenses would be capped, and sick people would no longer be dropped from their insurance plans.

The shift in focus and rhetoric comes as the health care debate has heated up, with Republicans and Democrats scrambling to dictate the narrative in a campaign style back and forth of competing ads, press releases and tweets. Democratic leadership labeled the sometimes raucous tactics of health care opponents as “un American” and the White House dusted off an election tactic, unveiling a web site to dispel misinformation about health care reform, and firing up grass roots organizers who were the backbone of the campaign.

Inside the town hall, held in the gymnasium at Portsmouth High School, those supporters were out in force—the White House picked 1800 attendees, among them Republicans, Independents and Democrats, staffers said.

To sell health insurance reform, the White House continues to rely on the Obama-as-the-best messenger strategy, first with a press conference last month and then with several town halls and radio addresses in the last weeks. Two more town halls are scheduled for Friday, one in Bozeman, Montana and the other in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Initially, Obama wanted health care bills out of both houses by the summer recess, instead, there are multiple bills still pending in both houses, and representatives have been shouted down at town hall discussions across the country during their summer recess.

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