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President hits critics, stresses urgency of healthcare overhaul

Obama also taps Ala. physician as surgeon general

By William Branigin and Michael D. Shear
The Washington Post / July 14, 2009
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WASHINGTON - President Obama served notice yesterday that his administration will forge ahead with a plan to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system despite what he described as mounting criticism, and he introduced his nominee for surgeon general as someone who “understands the urgency’’ of healthcare reform.

In a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden to present Regina Benjamin, a family physician from rural Alabama, as his choice to become the top US public health official, Obama delivered a forceful defense of his healthcare plan and derided the “small thinking’’ he said has sidetracked such efforts in the past.

He attempted to answer critics by arguing the plan “will not add to our deficit over the next decade and eventually will help lower our deficit by slowing the skyrocketing costs of Medicare and Medicaid.’’

Saying that “healthcare reform must be done,’’ Obama denounced critics of the plan as representing the “same Washington thinking that has ignored big challenges and put off tough decisions for decades,’’ adding that it was “precisely that kind of small thinking’’ that has led to the nation’s healthcare predicament.

Referring to his trip last week to Russia, Italy, and Ghana, Obama said, “So I just want to put everybody on notice, because there was a lot of chatter during the week that I was gone: We are going to get this done. Inaction is not an option.’’

Benjamin “understands the urgency of meeting this challenge in a personal and powerful way,’’ Obama said. If confirmed by the Senate, she would fill a key public health post ahead of an expected surge this fall in the swine flu strain known as H1N1.

Benjamin, 51, told the gathering that “public health issues are very personal to me,’’ because her immediate family died of what she described as “preventable diseases:’’ her father of diabetes and hypertension, her mother of lung cancer, and her older brother and only sibling of “HIV-related illness’’ at age 44.

“While I cannot change my family’s past, I can be a voice in the movement to improve our nation’s healthcare,’’ Benjamin said.

“My hope, if confirmed as surgeon general, is to be America’s doctor, America’s family physician. I want to ensure that no one - no one - falls through the cracks as we improve our healthcare system,’’ she added.

Material from the Associated Press was also used in this report.