Obama slams TV over health care "ruckus"



BELGRADE, Stephen Collinson - US President Barack Obama on Friday blamed headline-hungry television networks for enflaming an ugly backlash by foes of his top priority effort to offer health care to all Americans.
A combative Obama also accused health insurance firms of holding sick Americans "hostage" as he launched a weekend tour of mountain west states Montana, Colorado and Arizona where suspicion of Washington runs deep.



"I know there's been a lot of attention paid to some of the town hall meetings that are going on around the country, especially when tempers flare," Obama said, at his own event with 1,300 people in an airport hangar.
"TV loves a ruckus," said Obama and then joked: "you've got to be careful about those cable networks."
US news channels have been looping ferocious confrontations at town hall meetings held by lawmakers during their summer recess where voters have accused Obama of plotting a "socialized" takeover of the private health system.
But the president argued that away from television's glare, people were holding "civil, honest" conversations about change, at a time when some 46 million Americans have no health care insurance whatsoever.
Recalling a placid event he held in New Hampshire on Tuesday, the president said: "that reflects America a lot more than what we've seen covered on television for the last few days."
Trying to recapture control of the ferocious debate, Obama turned fire on health insurance firms, who reform advocates accuse of exploiting gravely ill Americans.
"We are held hostage, at any given moment by health insurance companies that deny coverage, or drop coverage, or charge fees that people can't afford at a time when they desperately need care," Obama said.
"It is wrong, it is bankrupting families, bankrupting business -- we are going to fix it when pass health insurances reform this year," said Obama.
The president was introduced at the event by Montana woman Katie Gibson, who repeatedly lost her insurance and face high fees when battling recurrent cancer, and was finally bailed out by a state-backed program.
Health reform has been elusive for former Democratic presidents and Obama's political capital would be severely depleted if he fails.
With a nod to the wilderness state of Montana, Obama hit out at political posturing in Washington over health care.
"You have bear, moose and elk ... in Washington you have mostly bull!"
He also denied claims that he is attempting to introduce a "socialized" system like the national health services in Canada and Britain, following dire portraits painted by his rivals of medicine in those two countries.
"We can't let them do it again," Obama said here, recalling how former presidents Lyndon Johnson and John F. Kennedy also faced ferocious opposition to now established healthcare programs.
"If you want a different, future, a brighter future, I need your help. Change is never easy. Fight against the fear, this is not about politics, this is about helping the American people."
Obama aides are confident he will still be able to drive reform through when Congress returns in September and escape damage to his political capital or sweeping "change" agenda.
But a key health care player, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, warned the tide of anger left the legislation's fate uncertain.
"It could have the impact of stalling it. It could have the impact of starting all over again. Or who knows. It could have the impact that nothing's changed and you just move ahead."
As the president steps up his counter-attack, a coalition of pro-reform groups are belatedly blitzing airwaves with a 12-million dollar spending spree of advertisements supporting the overhaul.
Some criticism though does seem drawn from genuine suspicion of big government germane to American politics, particularly in the heartland.
Critics cite fears about the level of government intervention Obama has prescribed in the finance and industrial sectors to counter the deepest economic crisis since the 1930s.
Republicans argue that "Obamacare" would be too expensive, swell the ballooning deficit, worsen the quality of care and strangle the industry with government bureaucracy.
Obama is yet to reveal a detailed plan, but promises to expand coverage, control spiralling healthcare costs, rein in insurance companies and prioritize preventative care.
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Saturday, August 15th 2009
Stephen Collinson
           


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