President Barack Obama called reinventing health care a "defining struggle of this generation" on Thursday, even as several Democrats criticized some of the fine print in a Senate proposal the president has praised.
Obama told about 15,000 college students at a campaign-style rally that Congress must resist scare tactics and false accusations to remake the nation's health care system.
The fight will be difficult, he said, and resistance that started surfacing Thursday to a key provision in Sen. Max Baucus' bill illustrated that. Several Democrats expressed concerns about a new tax proposed by Baucus, a Montana Democrat who chairs the Finance Committee. It would apply to high-value health insurance policies, but some say it would hit too many middle-class workers.
Obama, seemingly energized by the wildly cheering students at the University of Maryland, said forces are lining up in favor of a major health care bill, even as "special interests" oppose it. He said an "unprecedented coalition" of hospitals, doctors, nurses and drugmakers support the effort. Some of the most enthusiastic backers, he said, "are the very medical professionals who have firsthand knowledge" of how badly the current system operates.
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"When I sign this bill, it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick," the president said.
Obama aimed many of his remarks directly at young adults, a group that activists would like to see more involved in the push for a health care overhaul.
He again called for a public insurance option, which most congressional Republicans, and some Democrats, oppose. It would not amount to "a government takeover of health care," he said. Obama stopped short of insisting on such a plan.
Eliminating "waste and abuse" in the Medicare and Medicaid programs will help the government find money to cover most of the Americans now without insurance, he said.
The bill Baucus introduced Wednesday, among other things, aims to roll back spiraling medical costs and require nearly everyone to carry health insurance. A vote in his committee could occur as early as next week, but many hurdles remain in the House and Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., intends to begin debate on the Senate floor late this month or early October. The House also plans action this fall.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called Baucus' plan overall an "important building block" that "gets us closer to comprehensive health care reform." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it "will move this historic debate forward."
Other Democrats were less enthusiastic, and not a single Republican announced support when Baucus introduced the measure.
Obama's rally in Maryland was part of a campaign-style blitz to keep the pressure on Congress. He's also planning to appear on five Sunday morning talk shows and visit David Letterman's late-night show Monday on CBS.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said Thursday that party leaders would do all they could to line up votes for health care legislation. "We're not going to accept failure, we're going to find another way to bring real health care reform," he said.