(Adds Gibbs, Wilson quotes)
By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON, Sept 10 Tucked into President Barack
Obama's speech to the U.S. Congress was a new talking point --
that his aim is to get health insurance for 30 million uninsured
people, not 46 million.
"There are now more than 30 million American citizens who
cannot get coverage," Obama said on Wednesday. Back in August, he
had said: "We've got 46-47 million people without health insurance
in our country."
Why the change?
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama was making the
point that under his plan, illegal immigrants would not get health
"The proposal that the president outlined covers American
citizens," Gibbs told reporters. "His plan would not cover illegal
The U.S. Census Bureau said in a report on Thursday that the
number of people in the United States without health insurance
rose to 46.3 million in 2008 from 45.7 million a year earlier.
Obama, speaking to nurses who support his plan, lamented the
rise in the uninsured, saying it amounted to 17,000 people losing
their insurance every day. He cited a case where a woman had lost
her coverage because a mammogram showed she had breast cancer.
"It is heartbreaking, it is wrong, and as I said last night,
nobody should be treated that way in the United States of America.
Nobody," he said.
One of Republicans' main objections to Democratic healthcare
proposals has been the claim that illegal immigrants would get
healthcare coverage subsidized by American taxpayers.
Obama declared in his Wednesday speech that one of the "scare
tactics" used by his opponents is saying Democratic healthcare
proposals would insure illegal immigrants.
"The reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are
here illegally," he said.
That prompted South Carolina Republican Representative Joe
Wilson to shout, "You lie." Wilson later apologized to White House
Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who accepted on behalf of the
But Wilson said he still had concerns that illegal immigrants
could gain coverage under Democratic healthcare proposals and that
amendments that would have required verification of citizenship
had been voted down.
"I think this is wrong," Wilson said. "We need to be
discussing issues specifically to help the American people and
that would not include illegal aliens."
(additional reporting by Donna Smith)
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Steve Holland; Editing by Bill