Obama again tackles 'myths' on healthcare reform

Sat Aug 22, 2009 6:00am EDT

* Obama calls notion of "death panels" offensive

* Emphasizes illegal immigrants will not be covered

* Says ban on tax dollars for abortions unchanged

WASHINGTON, Aug 22 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama hammered away at "outrageous myths" about his healthcare reform plans on Saturday, seeking again to take control of a debate that has tarnished support for his top domestic policy goal.

Obama has tried for weeks to clamp down on criticism and misinformation about his healthcare plans and used his weekly radio and Internet address to address them.

"Today, I want to spend a few minutes debunking some of the more outrageous myths circulating on the Internet, on cable TV, and repeated at some town halls across this country," he said in the address.

"Let's start with the false claim that illegal immigrants will get health insurance under reform. That's not true.

"That idea has never even been on the table. Some are also saying that coverage for abortions would be mandated under reform. Also false."

Obama expressed outrage about persistent rumors that government-run "death panels" would have a say in whether ailing senior citizens would receive life-saving care or not.

"As every credible person who has looked into it has said, there are no so-called 'death panels' -- an offensive notion to me and to the American people," he said. "These are phony claims meant to divide us."

Obama also urged people not to get distracted by his desire to create a government-sponsored health insurance provider to compete with private companies.

"Let me repeat -- it would be just an option; those who prefer their private insurer would be under no obligation to shift to a public plan," he said.

"This one aspect of the healthcare debate shouldn't overshadow the other important steps we can and must take to reduce the increasing burdens families and businesses face."

Republicans charge that Obama's plans are too expensive in the face of skyrocketing budget deficits.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Bill Trott)