WASHINGTON - - With many Americans doubtful about his plans to overhaul the U.S. health care system, President Barack Obama sought Wednesday to lay out in personal terms how they stand to gain from the legislation that he has made one of the top goals of his presidency.
Acknowledging that Americans had become skeptical of proposals now being debated in Congress, Obama defended his push to move quickly on legislation that aims to give more people health insurance coverage and control health care costs.
"I'm rushed, because I get letters every day from families that are being clobbered by health care costs," Obama said.
The president questioned the motives of those opposed to a health care overhaul. Arrayed against the initiative, he said, are Republican critics determined to saddle him with a high-profile defeat that would weaken him politically.
"This isn't about me," he said. This is about every family, every business and every taxpayer who continues to shoulder the burden of a problem that Washington has failed to solve for decades."
The prime-time news conference was an attempt to regain momentum for a major change in the health care system, one of Obama's signature issues in the 2008 presidential race.
Even fellow Democrats say it is unrealistic to meet Obama's deadline and pass a bill before lawmakers go home next month. Equally worrisome for the White House is mounting opposition from powerful interest groups.
Obama's strategy is to rally public support behind his plan, making it easier for lawmakers to vote for the legislation. Appealing directly to the public, Obama sent a message that doing nothing would impose a huge cost on ordinary families.
"If somebody told you that there is a plan out there that is guaranteed to double your health care costs over the next 10 years, that's guaranteed to result in more Americans losing their health care, and that is by far the biggest contributor to our federal deficit, I think most people would be opposed to that," Obama said. "Well, that's the status quo. So, if we don't change, we can't expect a different result."
The president reiterated his support for a new government insurance program to compete with private insurers.
Republicans offered swift criticism.
"No matter how you slice it, or who the president tries to blame, he is forcing Americans into a government-run plan with a $1.6 trillion co-pay that results in higher taxes and greater debt," said Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee. "Instead of spending more on health care, as the president proposes, we need to focus on reducing the costs of health care."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Republicans will seek legislation that "doesn't increase the deficit, that doesn't put the government in charge of our health care, that doesn't produce a system that in the end delays care, in many instances denies care."
Obama vowed that the proposals would not result in government-run health care. Neither, he said, would they place bureaucrats between patients and their physicians and drive up the federal budget. But Obama still must persuade Congress to enact the overhaul he is seeking. And while the president attempts to rally public support, he faces the challenge of convincing conservative members of his party that his proposals would not burden small businesses and let bureaucrats control health care.
The news conference came amid a week of appeals through the news media by a president attempting to step up pressure on Congress.
"This is not just about the 47 million Americans who have no health insurance at all," Obama said. "Reform is about every American who has ever feared that they may lose their coverage if they become too sick, or lose their job, or change their job."
For people who already have insurance, the president said, any reform would provide "more security and more stability."
People would have the option of keeping their private insurance, and insurers would be barred from dropping the sick, he said. People who changed jobs or lost them would be able to keep coverage. Preventive care would be covered.
The government would be kept "out of health care decisions," the president said - directly answering a criticism that he wants government-run health care.
And any plan enacted, he promised, would not add to a federal budget deficit that already is approaching $2 trillion.
Meanwhile, a visitor list released Wednesday night by the White House shows Obama's administration began holding private meetings with health industry executives at the White House a few weeks after he took office. Richard Umbdenstock, president of the American Hospital Association, was at the White House on Feb. 4 and has been back at least six times, most recently May 22. Others making February visits included insurance company chief executives Angela Braly of WellPoint Inc. and Jay Gellert of Health Net Inc.
Obama released a list of White House visits by health care executives after a government watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said it planned to sue to get the visitor logs.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.