COLLEGE PARK,Md. – Jane Bretthneider and her husband own a small advertising business in Baltimore but still struggle to pay their medical expenses. Bretthneider said the couple has had to dip into their savings just to cover their medical costs.
“I don't know what to do,and I don't know why it's so expensive,” Bretthneider said of their estimated $800 monthly medical insurance payments.
Bretthneider was one of about 16,000 people who attended a health-care rally Thursday with President Barack Obama at the University of Maryland,College Park. The president's speech echoed the one he gave last week to a joint session of Congress. But this one was at a rally open to the public and packed with college students.
“We are the only nation on earth that leaves millions of people without health insurance,” Obama said.
He outlined a plan for a new health care system that would include a voluntary public insurance option. Obama said the plan would create an insurance exchange that would allow Americans to choose between public and private insurance providers.
“If you already have health insurance,nothing in this plan will require you to change what you have. What this plan will do is make the insurance you have work better for you,” Obama said.
He said young people will be able stay on their parents' insurance plans until they turn 26. In addition,nearly all Americans would be required to
have health insurance and those who don't would have to pay a fee.
Because their insurance doesn't cover all of their prescriptions,Bretthneider said the couple pay up to $140 for a small bottle of insulin for her husband Jeff Alphin's diabetes.
She said she is looking for a way to reduce health insurance costs.
“I don't know what the perfect health-care system is,but it doesn't have to be this expensive,” said Bretthneider,who declined to give her age. “Obama's plan can bring us closer to a perfect plan.”
Esther Brady,54,a union construction worker from Baltimore,said she is no longer fully covered by Laborers' International Union of North America's health insurance plan because she is working fewer hours.
“Since I'm working those hours,my benefits have been cut,” said Brady. “Right now,I have zilch.”
David May,39,of College Park,a project manager at the University of Maryland,gets insurance through his job. But like many Americans,he said he worries about what would happen if he were to get seriously ill or injured.
May,who was wearing a T-shirt that read “Single-Payer Now,” said he prefers a single-payer system that would insure all Americans.
Some at the rally were skeptical of Obama's plan. Steven Walton,49,an unemployed engineer from Bowie, Md.,said he's had to drop his health insurance plan to pay for his mortgage.
“The government's top agenda should be the economy and creating jobs. If you have a job,you can get health insurance,” Walton said.
Walton questioned how the government would pay for Obama's plan and said he supports a free-market solution for health insurance because consumers could purchase insurance across state borders.
“It would clean up fraud and abuse in the system,” he said.
The Comcast Center,the home of Maryland Terrapins basketball team,was packed mostly with supporters of Obama's health-care reform plan. The rally drew people of all ages,including thousands of college students. Near the rally's end,the crowd joined in a cheer with the president,”Fired up,ready to go,” a slogan the president used during last year's campaign.
Obama told the friendly audience that the health-care reform package would be funded by creating savings in the current system. The president said he will look into reforming medical malpractice to cut costs,as advised by Republican lawmakers.
“I won't sign a bill that adds one dime to our current deficit,” Obama said.
The president said he would consider other alternatives for reforming health care.
Repeating a line from his congressional speech,Obama said,”I may not be the first president to take up health-care reform but I am determined to be the last.”