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Obama says U.S. ready for health care reform

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama said his fundraising success was proof that the nation's political mood was shifting and that Americans were eager to embrace new ideas.
Obama 2008
Sen. Barack Obama, speaks during a rally with local residents, on Wednesday in Mason City, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama said his fundraising success was proof that the nation's political mood was shifting and that Americans were eager to embrace new ideas.

Because of this new approach, Obama said it was realistic for him and other candidates to support controversial proposals such as universal health care.

"Recently it was reported that I raised a lot of money for the presidential race, which was nice," Obama said at a campaign event in Algona. "The only reason we did it was because we had thousands of people all across the country who were donating $25, $10 because they had the sense that this is the opportunity, we've got this window where we might be able to take our country back."

Obama reported campaign contributions of $25 million in the first three months of this year, about $1 million less than Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign reported.

Republican National Committee spokesman Chris Taylor responded that maybe the infusion of money into Obama's campaign would lead to more specifics in his health care plans.

"With all these funds, maybe now he'll be able to hire someone to write a health care plan for him," Taylor said.

Health care ‘status quo is unsustainable’
Obama acknowledged he was moving cautiously in assembling a health care proposal to ensure he can build the political support needed to move the plan forward if he's elected president.

Obama noted that in previous campaigns, presidential candidates have offered detailed proposals without building that political support, only to see the issue fade after the election.

"Every four years presidential candidates trot out their plans, then nothing happens," Obama said. "How do we build a movement for change so that when a president is elected there is actually a constituency and a consensus that is built so we can move the agenda through Congress."

Failure to agree on changes to the health care system could be catastrophic, he said.

"We will go through another decade of dealing with this issue," Obama said.

Seeking to build that consensus, Obama started the day at an invitation-only health care discussion with more than 90 people at a community college in Mason City. The meeting was one of four public events Obama planned to hold Thursday in northern Iowa as the Democratic presidential candidate continued a three-day visit to the state.

Obama said he's not wedded to any specific system, but he thinks the plan he'll eventually support will offer universal coverage and will squeeze efficiencies out of the health care system. It also will stress preventive programs, such as weight control.

"The status quo is unsustainable," Obama said. "Standing pat is not an option."

Obama said if he was starting from zero, he would likely support a single-payer system, similar to the government-run program in Canada. But he's leery of taking such a step because the United States already has a complex and established system of employer-based health coverage.

He said that the country is already moving toward a government-based health system.

"The government is already covering half the people," said Obama, noting that Medicare, Medicaid and veterans health systems cover a vast number of Americans.

Gauging public opinion 
To build a political consensus for a new system, Obama said he'll hold a series of similar meetings to gauge public sentiment. He plans to offer a health care proposal in a couple months, he said.

Obama rejected suggestions that higher taxes are inevitable in a revamped health care system.

"We shouldn't just put more money into a system that isn't efficient," he said.

In discussing the matter, Obama cited his mother's struggle with health care as she dealt with ovarian cancer. She died at age 53.

Those attending the Mason City meeting underscored the importance of the issue.

Kandee Bartholomew said her lack of health insurance affected everything she did, as she sought to avoid injuries.

"There's no ice skating, no roller skating," she said.

Obama said he was surprised that few at the meeting were willing to scrap the system.

Mason City doctor Janice Kirsch said it's far more complex than simply letting the government take over health care.

"There are no simple answers," Kirsch said.