Health Secretary Says Government-Sponsored Insurance is Needed

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen
Sebelius said Friday that Americans need a new government-sponsored insurance plan to guarantee choice and competition - especially in rural America.

"What the president feels is important is to have some
competition and to have a choice," Sebelius said at a round-table
discussion in Omaha, where she delivered a sales pitch for
President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

Her appearance was part of an aggressive new administration push
to build a groundswell of public support for action by Congress in
time for Obama to sign legislation in the fall.

Obama himself brought the same message to heartland voters on
Thursday during a town hall meeting in Green Bay, Wis.

Sebelius said there seems to be broad agreement that the
nation's health care system is broken, but there's less agreement
about what needs to be done to fix it.

The new public plan option - favored by Obama but opposed by
Republicans - is just one potential piece of sweeping health care
legislation taking shape in Congress, but it's proving a big
stumbling block.

Sebelius said that in rural parts of the country - Nebraska's
sparsely populated Sandhills, for example - a reasonably priced
private plan may not be available. That's where a government-backed
plan could play a key role, she said.

Republicans contend that a new government-sponsored insurance
plan would drive private insurers out of business. Sebelius said
the public plan wouldn't replace private insurance plans. Sebelius
said the public plan would compete with private insurance plans but
wouldn't replace them.

Sebelius told Nebraskans she met with that the health reform
plan needs to be much broader than just addressing the problems
with health insurance because the current system doesn't do a good
job of preventing disease and managing Americans' health and

Obama is pressuring Congress to move quickly on legislation to
accomplish his goals of taming spiraling health costs and extending
coverage to 50 million Americans who lack it now.

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