WASHINGTON (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, a Democrat, has tried for weeks to clamp down on criticism and misinformation about his healthcare plans and used his weekly radio and Internet address to confront them.
Republicans charged the president with distributing false information of his own.
“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,” Obama said in his 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 — an issue that was spread by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who was the Republican vice presidential nominee last year.
“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,” Obama 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 and say their own proposals would bring down costs without creating a government-run system.
Republican Representative Tom Price, a physician, said the president was playing “fast and loose with the facts” about his plans and insisted Americans would not be able to hold on to their health insurance plans under Democratic proposals.
“The President regularly tells Americans that ‘if you like your plan, you can keep your plan.’ But if you read the bill, that just isn’t so,” Price said.
“For starters, within five years, every healthcare plan will have to meet a new federal definition for coverage - one that your current plan might not match, even if you like it,” he said.
Price said Republican alternative proposals to fix the healthcare system would put patients in charge of their medical decisions rather than having a “government-centered” approach.
“Unfortunately, the plan being promoted by the White House would give Washington the power to make highly personal medical decisions on behalf of patients,” Price said.
“The President’s plan is a 1,000-page expression supporting the notion that Washington knows best when it comes to your family’s health care. And that’s simply not true.”
Obama’s healthcare plan has been hit from both sides, with liberal members of his own party pushing for major changes while Republicans and conservative Democrats fret about cost and government involvement. Debate likely will intensify next month when Congress returns from its summer recess and Democrats renew their struggle to send Obama a final healthcare overhaul bill.
Editing by Vicki Allen