The President held a town hall on health care with voters in New Hampshire Tuesday. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
PORTSMOUTH, New Hampshire (CNN) - President Barack Obama complained Tuesday about opposition scare tactics against a proposed health-care overhaul, but said failing to fix problems in the current system would be the scariest outcome of all.
Obama addressed a supportive town hall meeting here that contrasted with combative events held by Democratic Congress members that have generated heated and sometimes disruptive responses. Earlier Tuesday, a hostile crowd shouted questions and made angry statements against proposed health-care legislation at a Pennsylvania meeting led by Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter.
Obama and Democratic leaders have accused opponents of health-care changes of organizing protests intended to drown out the debate, while Republicans respond the public anger is a genuine response to what they call excessive and misguided legislation.
In New Hampshire, Obama welcomed a "vigorous" debate as part of the democratic process, but said people should talk "with each other and not over each other." He criticized "wild misrepresentations" by special interests trying to undermine health-care legislation before Congress.
In particular, Obama rejected rumors that a health-care bill passed by a House committee included setting up so-called "death panels" to decide if senior citizens get treatment. He called spreading such rumors a long-standing practice by opponents of health-care reform, such as "those who profit under the status quo."
"What is really scary, what is really risky, is to do nothing," Obama said, noting that premiums paid for health-care coverage were rising three times faster than wages and that the government-run Medicare program for senior citizens would run out of money within a decade.
In a new twist at such forums, Obama specifically asked for questions from opponents of health-care legislation to address issues of concern.
He repeated past guarantees that a health-care overhaul won't force anyone to give up health insurance they like and won't cut Medicare benefits, and he stood by his election pledge that he won't raise taxes on people making less than $250,000 a year.
At the same time, Obama defended his call for a government-funded public health insurance option to compete against private insurers. He said such an option would hold down rates, rejecting accusations it amounted to a government takeover of health care because private companies can't compete with a government-funded plan.
"UPS and FedEx are doing just fine," Obama said, referring to private courier services that compete with the U.S. Postal Service. "It's the Post Office that's always having problems."
The atmosphere was different at Specter's morning event in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, where angry questioners made emotional statements against health-care proposals that they likened to a socialist takeover of the country. One man who shouted an unsolicited comment was shoved by another, prompting Specter to intervene while warning that those disrupting the meeting would be thrown out.
Videos of other protests circulating on the Internet show raucous crowds heckling their representatives in Congress and carrying posters with devil horns drawn on lawmakers' heads, swastikas, or Obama with Adolf Hitler's mustache drawn on his face.
The White House has launched what it calls a Health Insurance Reform Reality Check Web site designed to combat what the administration considers misinformation about the issue. The Web page features Obama aides discussing various aspects of health-care reform.
However, the Web site prompted Republican complaints that Obama's government would use it to compile a list of enemies. Obama rejected that accusation too.
He called a health-care overhaul essential for ensuring long-term economic stability while ensuring that that virtually all Americans have access to health insurance.
"The status quo is not working for you," Obama said to applause.
Congressional action on a health-care overhaul has slowed due to strong Republican opposition. Neither chamber met Obama's desired goal of passing a bill before their August recess.
In particular, Republicans and some Democrats reject the proposed public option, which they believe will lead to a government takeover of the health-care system and prove too costly.