LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California's Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, CEOs and celebrity doctors took up U.S. President Barack Obama's campaign for healthcare reform on Monday, saying millions of Americans need help.
The gathering in Los Angeles marked the fifth and final White House forum on healthcare across the nation and came as the deepening economic crisis added new urgency to calls for reform. Millions of people have lost jobs and their employer-provided health insurance.
"The American system of healthcare is falling far short of its mission -- leaving millions of our fellow citizens in poor health and with inadequate care or no care at all," said Schwarzenegger, who along with other governors, has taken a crack at state reform.
California is home to more than 6 million of the estimated 46 million Americans who were uninsured in 2007 and the state's Republican governor has been advocating for health reform, with limited success, for two years.
Obama, a Democrat, wants to expand coverage to the uninsured -- who make up roughly 15 percent of the population -- while lowering costs and ensuring that even the sickest have access to affordable insurance.
But finding funds for such an effort will not be easy as the nation doles out trillions of dollars to prop up troubled financial companies, banks and car makers amid the worst economic crisis since the 1930s.
Healthcare companies, who are motivated to protect their interests and their profits, have successfully lobbied against change in the past -- defeating then-first lady Hillary Clinton's health reform effort in the 1990s.
"Every governor -- Republican or Democrat -- would tell you it's not only a moral imperative, it is an economic imperative," Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, who co-hosted the community meeting with Schwarzenegger.
In March, the White House kicked off its community health forums in Michigan, which started the year with the nation's highest unemployment rate.
Along the way White House staffers have collected input from citizens, doctors, healthcare companies, nonprofit groups and politicians.
Most agree that the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system does not work as well as it should.
The United States spends more money per capita on healthcare than any other nation but lags in terms of quality.
"The most expensive healthcare is bad healthcare," said Dr. Mehmet Oz, who moderated Monday's forum and is best known for his appearances on Oprah Winfrey's television talk show.
Care is not equally distributed, expensive emergency rooms have become a dumping ground for the legions of uninsured and medical bills are the No. 1 cause for personal bankruptcy.
Safeway Inc Chief Executive Steve Burd said if his nationwide supermarket chain can cut its healthcare costs, so can the nation.