* Obama says action on healthcare urgent
* Report says overhaul to benefit entire economy
(Recasts with Obama comments, meeting)
By Donna Smith
WASHINGTON, June 2 President Barack Obama
stepped up efforts to build public support for a broad revamp
of U.S. healthcare on Tuesday, saying the country could no
longer afford the soaring costs of the current system that
leaves millions without medical coverage.
"We cannot avoid bringing about change in our health care
system," Obama told a group of Senate Democrats. "Soaring
health care costs are unsustainable for families, they are
unsustainable for businesses, and they are unsustainable for
governments, both at the federal, state and local levels."
Obama's push on healthcare comes as lawmakers seek to craft
a bill and pass it through the Senate before lawmakers take a
summer break. Democratic leaders in the House of
Representatives also hope to move health legislation through
that chamber before August.
"This window between now and the August recess, I think, is
going to be the make-or-break period," Obama said. "This is the
time where we've got to get this done."
The White House Council of Economic Advisers issued a
report on Tuesday saying that the overall U.S. economy would
benefit significantly from an overhaul that reins in soaring
costs and expands medical coverage to an estimated 46 million
UNSUSTAINABLE COST INCREASES
The White House report said healthcare spending, which
currently accounts for about 18 percent of the country's
economic output, could reach 34 percent by 2040 if the current
rate of cost growth continues. The report called that outlook
Most working Americans with health insurance get it through
their employers and the study said rising costs have increased
insurance premiums and cut into workers' wages. A reform that
reins in costs would improve economic efficiency and boost
economic output by more than 2 percent in 2020 and by 8 percent
in 2030, the report concluded.
That would translate into $2,600 in higher income for a
family of four in 2020, rising to $10,000 by 2030, the report
said. Since about half of healthcare costs are paid by federal,
state and local governments, their budgets also would benefit
greatly by reform, it said.
Providing medical coverage to the uninsured will also help
the economy by improving the overall well-being of the work
force -- providing a net benefit to the economy of about $100
billion a year, the report said.
Without the overhaul, the number of uninsured Americans
would rise to about 72 million in 2040, it said.
Republicans were skeptical.
"This report is nothing more than smoke and mirrors.
Everyone agrees that reducing the cost of health care would
benefit our economy, but the administration hasn't offered a
credible plan to do so without raising taxes or rationing
care," House Republican Leader John Boehner said.
Covering the uninsured will be costly, just as U.S.
government fiscal deficits are hitting record levels because of
a huge economic stimulus package, financial and auto industry
bailouts, and reduced revenue from taxes due to recession.
Lawmakers are trying to find cost savings through Medicare
and Medicaid, the government health programs for the elderly
and poor. The White House has proposed about $300 billion in
savings from those two programs.
Baucus also made clear he is considering limiting the tax
benefits of employer-provided insurance.
Workers now pay no taxes on that benefit but Baucus said a
cap on the tax exclusion would likely be a part of legislation
his committee is writing, even though Obama opposes taxing
employer-provided health benefits.
(Reporting by Donna Smith; Editing by Eric Walsh)