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Health Reform Fight Heats Up in Washington

Cost and other elements of President Obama's plan raise objections among Democrats as well as Republicans in Congress. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

This week, President Obama continued to push for health reform as debate over his plan intensified. He still wants legislation to sign into law by the end of the year. But he had to give up hope for both houses of Congress to pass bills before their August break.

Health care is one-sixth of the economy. Yet an estimated forty-six million Americans are uninsured. The United States is the only major industrial country that does not guarantee health care for all. The government provides coverage only for old people and the poor.

Most insured workers get their coverage through their jobs. But not all jobs offer insurance. And policies can be costly even when employers share the costs.

One proposal is to offer the choice of a government insurance plan that would compete with private insurers. Another proposal is to require employers with more than twenty-five workers to offer insurance or pay a penalty. Also, insurance companies could no longer deny coverage to people who are already sick.

President Obama wants to expand health coverage to all Americans and, at the same time, control costs. This week he completed six months in office. He held a nationally broadcast news conference Wednesday night that centered on health care. Why the hurry to pass a bill?

BARACK OBAMA: "If we do not control these costs, we will not be able to control our deficit. If we do not reform health care, your premiums and out-of-pocket costs will continue to skyrocket. If we do not act, fourteen thousand Americans will continue to lose their health insurance every single day."

But the president faces resistance over the price of his plan, which could cost a trillion dollars over ten years. Also, opponents say the government might restrict people's health care. The president says the goal is for patients to get the best care, not just the most expensive care.

And he says it can all be done without adding to the federal budget deficit. He says about two-thirds of the cost can be paid for with money that is currently being "wasted," he says, in federal health care programs.

Congress will have to decide how to finance the remaining costs. But the president says he will not let health reform be paid for -- in his words -- "on the backs of middle-class families."

Higher-earning families are another issue. Proposals to raise their taxes to help pay for the plan face objections, and not just from the Republican minority in Congress. Critics include House Democrats newly elected from wealthier communities. And they include the Blue Dogs, a fifteen-year-old coalition of moderate and conservative Democrats in the House of Representatives.

Opinion polls show that the majority of Americans want health reform. Forty-four percent in a USA Today/Gallup Poll released this week approved of Barack Obama's handling of the issue. But fifty percent disapproved.

Also, forty-nine percent disapproved of the president's handling of the economy. That was compared to an approval rate of fifty-five percent in May.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.