Gibbs: Obama's healthcare stand unchanged

Aug. 18, 2009 at 11:57 PM
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WASHINGTON, Aug. 18 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama hasn't changed his position on a public option in U.S. healthcare reform, spokesman Robert Gibbs said during a testy briefing Tuesday.

Obama has consistently said a public option is preferable, and he has said his goals were to increase competition and lower heath insurance costs, Gibbs said.

Gibbs said he repeatedly "walked through the notion of why choice and competition are so fundamentally important to this debate ... that in a monopoly, without consumer choice, without competition among health insurance providers, you're certainly not likely to see (a) cut in cost, you're certainly not likely to see a competition on quality. And those are the goals that the president has."

Obama has been slammed by congressional Republicans and Democrats on including a public option in the healthcare debate. Republicans and centrist Democrats say a public option won't fly in Congress while liberal Democrats say reshaping a public option would mean incomplete reform.

Democrats in Washington say they may rely mainly on Democratic votes on healthcare reform because GOP opposition is growing firmer, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

The newspaper said party leaders are shifting toward a partisan approach because of public comments by top Republicans suggesting reform proposals being considered on Capitol Hill will not get significant GOP support.

The White House has been on its heels since Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Sunday suggested a public health insurance option isn't essential to a reform bill. Gibbs said Sebelius has made such comments for months and they did not represent a policy change.

The bottom line for Obama, Gibbs said, is, "Do we have a system that provides that choice for consumers and that competition among insurers on quality and cost?"

Asked about the administration's view of establishing health insurance cooperatives as an alternative to public health insurance, Gibbs said he didn't think "anybody has seen a level of detail thus far that you'd (need to to) be able to make a completely educated assumption on what we've seen."

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