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ECONOMICS REPORT - Obama Seeks Health Reform With New Industry Support

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This is the VOA Special English Economics Report.

Health care reform was a big subject this week at the White House.

President Obama held a series of meetings, including with Democratic leaders from the House of Representatives. Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised to bring legislation to the full House by the end of July.

The Senate must also act. The president wants to sign a bill into law by the end of the year.

On Monday he got support from leaders of six groups in the health care industry. These represent doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, medical suppliers, union members and others.

A doctor treats a patient at a hospital in Fargo, North Dakota
A doctor treats a patient at a hospital in Fargo, North Dakota

They promised to do their part to cut the growth rate in health spending by one and a half percentage points a year. The savings over ten years could amount to two trillion dollars.

Many industry leaders opposed reform efforts in the past. But health spending has rocketed over the past generation to about seventeen percent of the economy. President Obama says Americans spend more than any other nation yet the system is broken.

BARACK OBAMA: "At the rate we're going, we are expected to spend one-fifth of our economy on health care within a decade. And yet we're getting less for our money."

The main way that the federal government pays for health care is by insuring older people through the Medicare program. But health costs are increasing at an average of about six percent a year -- far ahead of inflation.

And a new report this week showed that the recession is also affecting Medicare. The program may no longer be able to pay all its hospital bills by two thousand seventeen. That is two years earlier than last year's prediction.

Another report showed that the Social Security trust fund is expected to be out of money by two thousand thirty-seven. That is four years earlier than predicted last year. Loss of the trust fund could reduce payments to future retirees.

The last major effort to reform health care failed in the early nineties. During last year's campaign Barack Obama offered ways to control health costs and expand coverage to all Americans. Almost forty-six million have no health insurance at all.

Unlike Bill Clinton, the new president has left the details of forming a plan to Congress. But lawmakers have yet to find common ground on how to pay for it.

Republicans say the idea for a new public health plan to cover millions of the uninsured would hurt the private health care market. And they say it would only increase budget deficits that are already high. But the president says health care costs have put the federal budget on a "disastrous path."

And that's the VOA Special English Economics Report, written by Mario Ritter. I'm Steve Ember.

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