Obama touts health care reform in St. Louis area rallies

The president plans to cut costs by reducing waste and fraud.
President Barack Obama speaks to the audience about the importance of health insurance reform Wednesday at St. Charles High School. Obama addressed concerns raised by seniors receiving Medicare and also discussed a plan that would allow children to be covered by their parents' health insurance until the age of 26.

ST. CHARLES — With sign-waving protesters from both sides of the heated health care debate lining the streets around him, President Barack Obama vowed to eliminate government waste and fraud to shrink the nation's ballooning health care costs.

The president spoke Wednesday at St. Charles High School and later at an evening rally in downtown St. Louis as part of a series of speeches to boost support for a health care reform bill debated in the Senate.

Obama attacked waste and fraud in government health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

"The fact is, Washington is a place where tax dollars are often treated like Monopoly money, bartered and traded, divvied up among lobbyists and special interests," Obama said. "It has been a place where waste — even billions of dollars in waste — is accepted as the price of doing business."

In his speech, Obama threw his support behind Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act, legislation that would increase audits and recoup money spent on "improper payments." Those are payments that go to the wrong person or company or which are paid for services that are not performed.

He also touted an online database aimed at cutting waste in all government, under a bill sponsored by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. McCaskill, whom Obama called one of Washington's "auditors-in-chief," stood by the president during his address.

"Let me tell you, Claire loves knocking some heads together," Obama said, speaking of McCaskill's efforts to cut wasteful spending. "She's never been afraid to do that."

Obama also touted the more popular aspects of the health reform plan. One such provision would allow children to stay on their parents' health insurance plan until the age of 26 instead of 21.

St. Charles residents Ashley Dickinson and Carl Adams said the provision would be most helpful part of the bill for them.

"Somebody's hearing us cry out that we need health insurance," Dickinson, 20, said. "Finally somebody is paying attention."

"It's great to be treated as an equal, as far as being (from) a younger generation," Adams, 21, said.

Outside, opponents waved signs and flags decrying the health care bill as a government takeover. Dressed in a kilt while protesting on North Kingshighway Street, St. Charles resident Mac McIntyre said he saw the bill as similar to British colonial oppression of his Scottish ancestors.

"My family came here to escape the oppression and the taxes of the crown," he said. "I'm out here to exercise my freedom to assemble and protest these new taxes."

Inside the high school, Obama faced a much friendlier crowd. Chants of "Health care now! Health care now!" broke out among the audience moments before the president took the stage. Supporters occasionally interrupted his remarks with shouts of encouragement.

Far larger and louder crowds of protesters gathered in downtown St. Louis, where the president spoke at a private dinner and reception. People for and against the bill shouted slogans at each other from behind police barricades, and one opposition camp with a bullhorn attempted to drown them all out.

"Out in November! Out in November!" the group chanted, alluding to the November congressional elections.

At the reception, Obama again called on supporters from his 2008 election victory to rally support for the reform bill despite its wavering popularity.

"We don't shirk from a challenge. We don't shrink from responsibilities," Obama said. "We embrace them for our children and the next generation. That's why you supported me in this campaign. Don't give up on me now. We're just getting started."

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