The day after he unveiled his "Plan for a Healthy America," Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois said substantial health care reform would only come if "we build a movement around the country for change."
Obama, who is preparing for the Democrats' primary debate on Sunday in Manchester, has begun to explain his plans for reform — and defend it from critics who believe it's not comprehensive enough.
He told the Herald in a phone interview Wednesday from Chicago that his plan enhances the strengths of the current employer-based insurance system while addressing areas of weakness such as skyrocketing premiums and health care costs and the approximate 45 million Americans without health insurance.
"This is a smarter approach to provide affordable, universal health care," Obama said of his plan, which the campaign estimates will costs between $50 billion and $65 billion annually — and will be paid through technology savings and letting Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy lapse in 2010. "Two-thirds of Americans have employer-based insurance plans and it would be too disruptive" to radically change the current system.
During an April health care forum with 100-plus local residents at Seacoast Media Group in Portsmouth, Obama heard numerous calls for a single-payer system, such as one proposed by fellow Democratic candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. But Obama said such as a system was not feasible and would face crippling opposition in Congress by "entrenched interests who profit today" by the health care cost crisis.
Obama's plans calls for a public program to enroll the uninsured, public subsidies for low-income workers and their families, and coverage for all children. His campaign estimates a reform effort that includes government-sponsored catastrophic illness coverage, medical technology overhauls and more emphasis on prevention would save the average American $2,500 in premiums.
A New Hampshire spokeswoman for one of Obama's primary rivals, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, said Obama's plan still relies too much on private health insurers and doesn't mandate universal coverage.
"Any plan that falls short of truly universal health care coverage is simply not enough," said Kate Bedingfield.