Video: Obama urges Senate Dems to step up

  1. Closed captioning of: Obama urges Senate Dems to step up

    >> everyone.

    >>> today, republican scott brown will be sworn in as the senator from massachusetts, officially ending the democrats' supermajority in the senate. brown's presence is already having an impact. nbc's white house correspondent savannah guthrie joins us now from washington. good morning, savannah.

    >> reporter: hi, natalie. you're right, things have changed in the senate. the president met with senate democrats on wednesday and told them that's no excuse not to get things done. on friendly turf --

    >> thank you, guys, thank you.

    >> reporter: but before an audience of fellow democrats worried about their own political fortunes, the president urged senators to shake off the massachusetts senate upset and step up.

    >> i would just suggest to this caucus, if anybody's searching for a lesson from massachusetts, i promise you, the answer is not to do nothing.

    >> reporter: the president told democrats they must find a way to get health care passed, but to the frustration of some, didn't lay out how it could be done.

    >> what are we going to do differently?

    >> reporter: taking questions from the audience as he did with house republicans last week.

    >> i've got to admit, i had a little fun at that caucus.

    >> reporter: the president seemed to bend over backwards.

    >> the senator from arkansas, blanche lincoln .

    >> reporter: to praise senators in re-election battles.

    >> blanche is exactly right.

    >> reporter: and a chance to mend fences with one such democrat, majority leader harry reid , fighting for his political life in nevada, reid slammed the president for comments at a new hampshire town hall on tuesday, when he used las vegas yet again as an example of reckless spending.

    >> don't blow a bunch of cash on vegas when you're trying to save for college.

    >> reporter: the president was quick to fire off a letter of apology, writing, "i hope you know that during my town hall , i wasn't saying anything negative about las vegas . i was making the simple point that families use vacation dollars, not college tuition money, to have fun." well, today the president will have senator reid and the other democratic leaders over here at the white house to hash out a legislative strategy with one fewer vote in the senate, natalie.

    >> all right, savannah guthrie at the white house for us this morning. thank you, savannah.

    >>> the military is trying to

updated 2/4/2010 12:34:41 PM ET 2010-02-04T17:34:41

Government is poised to become king of the hill in America's vast health care system, with or without President Barack Obama's planned redo, according an economic report released Thursday.

Federal and state programs will pay slightly more than half the tab for health care purchased in the United States by 2012, says the analysis by Medicare number crunchers published in the journal Health Affairs.

That's even if Obama's health care overhaul wastes away in congressional limbo. Long in coming, the shift to a health care sector dominated by government is being speeded up by the deep economic recession and the aging of the Baby Boomers, millions of whom will soon start signing up for Medicare.

"This does mark a pretty stark jump in the data," said Christopher Truffer of Medicare's Office of the Actuary, which prepared the analysis.

For all the hue and cry over a government takeover of health care, it's happening anyway.

The tipping point is likely to come next year, Truffer said. For technical reasons, the report assumes that Congress is going to allow Medicare to cut doctor fees by 20 percent later this year, as required by a 1990s budget law. But lawmakers have routinely waived such cuts, and they're not likely to allow them in an election year. So government probably will end up picking up most of the nation's medical costs in 2011, instead of 2012.

The report serves as a reality check in the debate over Obama's health care plan, which has been marked by disagreements between the political parties over how large a role government should play.

Congressional Democrats want to move forward with the sweeping legislation, but are stalled over disagreements among themselves. Republicans have rejected Obama's approach as a top-down, big government solution.

Richard Foster, Medicare's top economic forecaster, said the recession has only worsened the two stubborn problems facing the U.S. health care system, lack of insurance coverage and high costs. "All that argues that some form of health care reform is a good idea," Foster said.

The Democrats' plan would expand coverage to more than 30 million people now uninsured, while taking some modest steps to slow the pace of future cost increases. It would set up a new insurance marketplace for small businesses and people buying coverage on their own, with government subsidies available for many. Denial of coverage because of health problems would be prohibited.

The report estimated that in 2009, the United States spent $2.5 trillion for health care, with government programs — mainly Medicare and Medicaid — paying $1.2 trillion. Employer health insurance and various private sources covered the other $1.3 trillion. Even as the economy shrank because of the downturn, health care spending grew by 5.7 percent from 2008. Spending by government grew nearly three times faster than private spending, closing in to overtake it.

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Driving much of the government surge was Medicaid, the federal-state program for low-income people, which grew by nearly 10 percent as workers lost jobs with health insurance, and Democrats expanded coverage for children of the working poor.

The swine flu outbreak contributed modestly to higher costs in 2009, as more people went to the doctor and took antiviral medications, the report found. Total spending on prescription drugs grew by slightly more than 5 percent, as higher prices for brand name medications overpowered the widespread availability of generics.

Previous estimates had put the crossover point to a health care system financed mainly by taxpayers at about 2016. There seems to be little chance that the balance will tip back decisively in the direction of private financing, with the Baby Boom generation signing up for Medicare and the lack of health insurance at many new jobs.

Other economically advanced countries — including those with government-run health care — also have problems with costs. But the U.S. spends much more per person than any other nation, without getting better results in life expectancy and many other measures of health.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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