President Barack Obama criticized U.S. health insurance companies on Monday for raising premiums sharply and denying coverage to the sick, as he sought to rally Democratic support for his healthcare bill.
"Every year, insurance companies deny more people coverage because they have a pre-existing condition. Every year, they drop more people's coverage when they're sick and need it most," Obama said at an appearance in Glenside, Pa.
"Every year, they raise premiums higher and higher and higher," he said in a campaign-style speech at Arcadia University near Philadelphia.
Renewing a populist attack on big insurers, Obama accused the companies of making a calculation with a strategy of increasing premium charges. He said the companies were aware that many people would be priced out of the market by the increases, but they believe they could make more money by raising premiums on existing customers.
Obama and other administration officials have sought to draw a link between the insurers and another political foil — big Wall Street companies — by emphasizing their profit-hungry culture.
He highlighted a transcript of a Goldman Sachs conference call that said profits were increasing and competition decreasing for private health insurers.
Obama and his fellow Democrats are making a final push to pass their stalled healthcare overhaul, which would reshape the $2.5 trillion industry by cutting costs, regulating insurers and expanding coverage to tens of millions of Americans.
Whether or not Obama succeeds in passing the legislation, healthcare is expected to be a huge issue in the November congressional elections, which could shift the balance of power in the U.S. Congress.
Obama appealed for the public's help in getting his healthcare overhaul across the finish line in the next two weeks. "The time for talk is over," he said.
The two chambers of Congress have passed differing versions of the legislation, but efforts to merge the two and send a final version for Obama to sign into law collapsed in January after a special election in Massachusetts cost the Democrats the crucial 60th Senate vote needed to overcome Republican procedural hurdles.
Democrats now plan to use a special procedure that would allow them to pass the bill with a simple majority in the 100-seat Senate.
In the discussion of the transcript from the Goldman conference call, Obama pointed to the comments of an insurance broker about the future for the industry.
"This broker said that insurance companies know they will lose customers if they keep on raising premiums but because there's so little competition in the insurance industry, they're OK with people being priced out of the insurance market," he said.
"There's no secret, they're telling their investors this: 'We are in the money. We are going to keep on making big profits even though a lot of folks are going to be put under hardship,'" he said.
Obama sought to shore up the support of Democrats who might be wavering on the healthcare legislation because of fear of how it could affect their chances in November.
"It's hard for some members of Congress to make this vote. There's no doubt about that," he said.
"Those of us in public office were not sent to Washington to do what's easy," he continued. "We were sent there to do what was hard. We were sent there to take on the tough issues. We were sent there to solve the big challenges."
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