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Obama uses new figures to push reform

From NBC's Athena Jones
WASHINGTON -- President Obama said a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau was just more proof that the time for a comprehensive overhaul of the nation's health-care system is now.

The brief event with nurses was part of an effort to keep the pressure on Congress to pass reform this year.

"This morning, the Census Bureau released new data showing not only that the poverty rate increased last year at the highest rate since the early 1990s, but also that the number of uninsured rose in 2008," Obama said.

The Census report showed the number of people without health-insurance coverage rose by 600,000 to 46.3 million from 45.7 million over the last 12 months and that the number of people covered through their employers fell by 1.1 million to 176.3 million.

The president went on to cite a set of much higher estimates about the jump in the number of uninsured since the recession worsened last year.

"And we know from more up-to-date surveys that since the recession intensified last September, the situation has grown worse," the president went on to say. "Over the last 12 months, it's estimated that the ranks of the uninsured have swelled by nearly six million people -- that's 17,000 men and women every single day, and we know that during this period of time, the number of adults who get their coverage at the workplace has dropped by eight million people."

An Obama aide said this second set of much higher estimates about the number of uninsured since the recession came from Gallup. The new data had not yet been posted on Gallup.com, but the organization confirmed they provided the information to the White House.

After an August marked by the noisy protests of opponents of a health-care bill, the White House is hoping to regain control of the debate and push lawmakers to pass a bill quickly. Today, Obama repeated last night's call for action in Congress and described his vision for a future with a fairer and more efficient health care system.

"It's time for us to act, we need to go ahead and make a change -- if all of us do our parts, not just here in Washington but all across the country, then we will bid farewell to the days when our health care system was a source of worry to families and a drag on our economy, and America will finally join the ranks of every other advanced nation by providing quality, affordable health insurance to all of its citizens," he said. "That's our goal."

The president repeated many of the points he made in his speech to a joint session of Congress last night, though more briefly, as he sought to explain in simple, direct terms how his health-care plan would improve insurance for those who already have it, give those who don't have it an affordable way to get coverage and help slow the health-care inflation.

The White House has consistently argued that a health-care overhaul is essential to ensure fiscal stability in the future and he repeated his message to deficit hawks today, arguing that while his proposal will cost some $900 billion over 10 years, it was far less than the money spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and less than the tax cut for the wealthy passed at the beginning of President Bush's administration.

"The cost of this plan will not add to our deficit," he said. "The middle class will be rewarded with greater security, not higher taxes. And if we're able to slow the growth of health care costs by just a fraction of 1 percent each year, we will actually reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the long term."

The president was introduced by Rebecca Patton, the president of the American Nurses Association, who shared her groups "very enthusiastic support" to Obama's plan and who urged Democrats and Republicans to "help make these badly needed reforms a reality."

"The only thing Americans should fear is that another year might pass without these needed reforms, that more lives will be lost, more families will be left to struggle," Patton said.

In fact, even if Congress passes a comprehensive health care bill, many of the new provisions would not go into effect for years.