ANNANDALE, Virginia (CNN) – President Barack Obama used a town hall meeting Wednesday to urge Americans to reject what he called fear-mongering by those who oppose fixing the nation's ailing health care system this year.
"If we don't act, if we let this moment pass, we could see this economy sputter along for decades," Obama said at the event that included questions from audience members and through interactive networks such as Twitter and Facebook.
"I want everybody to be well-enough informed so that the scare tactics of those who oppose reform won't work," he said in reference to Republican opponents who accuse him of seeking a government takeover of health care to create a nationalized system such as those in England and Canada. "Don't let people scare you out of reforming a system we know is not working."
It was Obama's second town hall meeting in a week, reflecting his effort to engage citizens early in the process of deliberations in Congress.
The event at Northern Virginia Community College came amid some good news for Obama on health care.
On Tuesday, former comedian Al Franken, a strong supporter of the universal health care backed by the president, was declared the winner of Minnesota's disputed Senate election. Franken's victory puts a filibuster-proof total of 60 senators in the chamber's Democratic caucus.
And on Wednesday, Wal-Mart joined the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Center for American Progress economic think tank in supporting Obama's call for large employers to offer health insurance to their workers.
"We are for shared responsibility. Not every business can make the same contribution but everyone must make some contribution," said a letter to Obama signed by Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke, SEIU President Andy Stern and Center for American Progress CEO John Podesta. "We are for an employer mandate which is fair and broad in its coverage, but any alternative to an employer mandate should not create barriers to hiring entry-level workers."
Obama wants to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable health care, and to encourage doctors and hospitals to avoid ordering unnecessary procedures while still providing a high quality of care.
He repeatedly stated those goals Wednesday, along with his desire for a government-funded health care option to compete with private insurers.
However, Republicans and some Democrats oppose that plan, with the strongest critics saying it eventually will bring a government-run system because private insurers will be unable to compete with a subsidized government program. Obama scoffed at that concern, noting those expressing it are claiming that private insurers currently are doing a good job.
"If they're so great, why are they worried about competing with the public plan?" he said to laughter, adding that the critics also are the ones who claim the government can't run anything right.
Several congressional committees are considering legislative proposals, most of which would have a hefty price tag: around $1 trillion. A major concern is possible tax increases, such as a new tax on employer-sponsored health care benefits, to help foot the bill.
Obama repeated his preference to raise money to pay for health care reform by capping tax deductions for Americans earning more than $250,000 a year. In response to a question, he acknowledged the Senate Finance Committee's discussion of instead creating a new tax on the medical benefits provided by employers.
While Obama said he thinks his idea is better, he stopped short of rejecting the possible new tax.
"My bottom line ... is that if you've got health insurance right now, you shouldn't suddenly see your costs go up as a result of health care reform," he said.
Meanwhile, a national poll suggests that a bare majority of Americans support Obama's health care plan.
The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday morning indicates that most people worry that their health care costs would go up if the administration's proposals passed and only one in five thinks that their families would be better off under the Obama plan.