Grand Junction, Colo. » President Obama is taking his fight for health care reform to the people.
And he's doing it in Republican strongholds like this city, where skeptics of any kind of government intervention in the nation's health care system are aplenty.
"What I hear from people is that we have excellent health care now," said Dennis White, a spokesman for the Western Slope Conservative Alliance, which rallied against the president's plan Saturday. "We don't want some health care czar imposing himself or intruding on that relationship with our insurance companies, our doctors and ourselves. So I'd say it's overwhelmingly unpopular in this area."
Toting signs that said "Hands off my healthcare," "No more deficit spending," "Free to choose no public option" and opposing "Government-run healthcare," people gathered at Lincoln Park and the Mesa County Courthouse said they want health care reform -- just not Obama's way.
"It's moving way too fast," said Stella Lightfoot, a 55-year-old breast cancer survivor who drove from Moab to rally. "The spending is out of control. It's putting our kids and grandkids in debt. It's got to stop."
So, in a packed Central High School Warriors gym Saturday, the president tried to frame the debate this way: The country is going broke. With Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security making up about two-thirds of the federal budget, getting a handle on soaring health care costs is the only way to get back in the black.
"If you are a fiscal hawk -- if you are deficit hawk -- and you are tired of this crazy spending in Washington, and you finally want to make sure we are looking out for the next generation, then you more than anybody should want to reform the health care system," he said.
While the recovery plan has helped boost the economy through tax cuts, the extension of unemployment benefits and an infusion of cash to states facing historic budget shortfalls, it isn't enough, the president said.
"We've got to lay a new foundation for a new economy," Obama said, "and health insurance reform is a key pillar of this new economy."
What he is proposing, Obama said, isn't a government-run health system.
Instead, he is pushing for a common sense set of consumer protections for health insurance. Most people would still get their coverage through their employers. The difference is insurance companies wouldn't be able to arbitrarily cap coverage or charge outrageous out-of-pocket fees on top of premiums. The president told the story of one couple who hit their maximum lifetime coverage in just one year after their son was diagnosed with leukemia. As a result, the boy wasn't able to get a life-saving bone marrow transplant and died.
"If you think that can't happen to you and your family, think again," Obama said.
About 90 percent of insured Americans have lifetime limits under $3 million. On top of that, he said, their insurance premiums have doubled at the same time their out-of-pocket costs have increased by 50 percent.
"Nobody is holding these insurance companies accountable for these practices," he said.
His proposed health reform plan would work like this: If you like your insurance plan, you'll be able to keep it, he said. Or you can choose a plan through a national insurance exchange, a marketplace where you can go online and select a plan from a menu. Insurance carriers who sell plans through the exchange would be subject to government regulations -- such as not being able to deny coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions -- and would have to compete with a public option. The idea, Obama said, is that a government-run not-for-profit would "keep insurance companies honest."
Addressing concerns from the audience that a public option might dismantle the private insurance market, Obama explained that it would not be subsidized with taxpayer dollars. Likewise, it would not receive any special government rates on capital and would have to negotiate its rates just like any other carrier.
Employers, meanwhile, would receive tax incentives for providing insurance to their workers. If they don't, they would have to pay into the system.
The cost of doing all of this is hefty -- about $900 billion over the next 10 years, the president said. Two-thirds of that cost would be paid for by eliminating waste in the health care system. The rest will be covered by capping itemized deductions at 28 percent for people whose incomes are more than $250,000.
For people like Katie Henson, 25, the president's town hall meeting crystallized the debate.
"I think it helped clear up a lot of issues," she said, "especially about health insurance being taken away from people who already have it, and just about like the government taking over."
Henson, who along with her husband was uninsured for three years, racked up medical bills paying for emergencies. Her 2-year-old daughter was on Medicaid.
Now insured through her husband's employer, Henson said, "I think it (Obama's health reform plan) will be good for families like us, who spend almost 25 percent of our income just on health insurance."
As the health reform effort gains momentum, Obama said, opponents are ramping up their efforts to derail it. But he argued that hope must prevail over fear.
The current health care system is "hurting too many families and businesses," Obama said. "It's wrong and we're going to fix it when we pass health insurance reform this year."
But Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, is skeptical.
"I think he knows his plan is in trouble," said Chaffetz, who spoke at the Lincoln Park rally. "I think America from coast to coast is rising up and saying, 'No.' Last time I saw this happen was immigration. It surprised Washington, D.C. If he's truly listening, he's going to find the masses are not in favor of this plan."
Here's how President Barack Obama outlined his health insurance reform proposal:
If you like your insurance plan, you can keep it.
Or, choose a plan through a national insurance exchange, which will allow you to select a plan from a menu.
Insurance carriers that sell plans through the exchange would be subject to rules such as not being able to deny coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions.
A public option would be available, but would not be subsidized with taxpayer dollars and would have to negotiate rates like any other carrier.
Employers would receive tax incentives for providing insurance to their workers.