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President Obama Pushes for Healthcare Reform

In a town hall meeting on July 1, with two AFT members from Virginia in the audience, President Obama reiterated the need for Congress to pass healthcare reform this year. Before the meeting at Northern Virginia Community College—which also was shown and discussed live online—the White House solicited video questions from the public.

During the meeting, the president outlined the pressing need for healthcare reform and some of the key issues that must be addressed. His message was consistent with the AFT's key principles for reform. President Obama talked about changes that would control costs, preserve and expand choices, and offer affordable options for all American families.

(On July 2, the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee introduced a healthcare reform bill that won praise from AFT president Randi Weingarten. She said the AFT is looking forward to working with leaders in the Senate to strengthen and pass the bill.)

"This is a problem we can't wait to fix," Obama said at the meeting. "It's not something that we're going to keep on putting off indefinitely. This is about who we are as a country. And that's why we are going to pass healthcare reform—not 10 years from now, not five years from now; we are going to pass it this year."

The president took questions from the audience, which included Norfolk (Va.) Federation of Teachers members Phyllis Bryant and Thomas Calhoun. Some questions also were submitted via YouTube and Twitter. The questions touched on some of the most heated issues under discussion in Congress, including possible taxation of employer-provided health insurance to help pay for reforms, and a so-called public option as one alternative to provide affordable coverage.

On both of those topics, the president supported positions very much in line with what the AFT has called for. He said he strongly supports a public option as a way "to create some competition for the private insurers to keep them honest." On the question of taxing benefits, Obama said he remains convinced that a better way to raise needed revenues is to cap itemized deductions for people earning more than $250,000 a year.

In response to a question from a union member about what she could do to help get healthcare reform passed, the president urged people to keep informed so they can counter some of the misleading arguments against reform. "Whenever you start hearing these arguments about socialized medicine, government takeover, rationing, Canada-style healthcare, what I need you to do," he said, "is to actually pay attention to the argument and don't let people scare you out of reforming a system that we know is not working."

A video and transcript from the meeting are available on the White House Web site.

July 2, 2009