(Adds Gibbs, Wilson quotes)
By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON, Sept 10 (Reuters) - 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 insurance.
“The proposal that the president outlined covers American citizens,” Gibbs told reporters. “His plan would not cover illegal immigrants.”
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 president.
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 Trott