Live at Obama Health Care Town Hall

1:00 p.m. — Good afternoon from Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, where President Barack Obama will hold another town hall-style meeting to promote his health care plan. The event will start shortly, with the president taking questions from the live audience here and from online participants. I’ll update throughout the event, as long as the laptop battery allows.

A few observations off the top:

There’s a large media presence here, including several television crews from abroad: at least one group is from Japan. Not sure if these foreign journalists have specific interest in this event, or if they’re hitting as many major political functions while they’re in the states.

Spotted in the crowd: state Sen. Chuck Colgan (D-Prince William), Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax) and Del. Chuck Caputo (D-Fairfax). Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine is here and is expected to speak before the president.

1:22 — Just saw Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA 03), state Sen. Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) and state Health and Human Resources Secretary Marilyn Tavenner

Kaine comes out to warm up crowd. Notes that NVCC is second largest community college in the country and that it trains more health professionals than any other institution in the DC metro area.

1:25 Kaine introduces Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the president, who will moderate discussion.

1:28 Obama enters

1:30 Obama begins his remarks. Says this nation is faced with incredible challenges — economy, health care, etc. Says America has waited long enough to address these problems.

1:33 Obama: Costs of fixing problems are, in some cases, great. But cost of inaction is greater.

1:35 Obama: If we want to control deficits, we need to control health care costs.

1:36 President says we are going to pass health care reform this year

1:40 — President talks about importance of investing in electronic medical records, prevention. Says expensive care does not necessarily equal good care.

1:45 Obama talks about the idea of a Health Insurance Exchange — marketplace to allow one stop shopping for health insurance. People could compare plans and pick best for them.

President strongly belives a public option will help improve quality of care

POTUS says we must pay for health care changes. Has to be “deficit neutral”

Obama says to critics: what is your alternative?

Obama: “I don’t accept the status quo, and you shouldn’t either.”

1:51 p.m. — President ends remarks and takes questions. First Q is from video: why not looking at a single-payer plan? Answer: For us to transition from employer-based to single-payer system would be “hugely disruptive.”

1:55 — First audience questioner begins: “Thank you Mr. President, I’ll try not to cry.” The gist of her question is that she has major medical problems (some sort of tumor, but her exact comments were hard to hear) says she cannot qualify for health coverage. Wants to know how she’s going to “make it” until she’s qualified for federal Medicaid benefits. Obama gives her a hug. Promises to help her fix her situation and to fix the larger problem of complicated system with lots of gaps.

2:03 — Obama talks about prescription drug companies and their $80 billion pledge to close the so-called donut hole, which leaves a large number of famlilies ineligible for Medicare. “Were it not for the prospect of serious health care reform, they would not have given up that money,” Obama said.

2:09 — I do think that we can’t add to the deficit,” Obama said. “We should find ways to honestly pay for whatever we do.”

2:13  Next question is about taxing health care benefits. Obama says employers providing coverage is a “huge subsidy through the tax code.” “I opposed this during the campaign,” Obama says (in reference to total elimination of the tax subsidy) because lots of employers will no doubt stop providing insurance. Adds that individuals don’t have a lot of leverage with private insurance companies.

2:20 Next question, from video, is a Texas physician who asks about the president’s stance on medical malpractice. Doctor stresses that a cap on malpractice has worked in Texas. Obama responds that an artificial cap does no good when doctors and hospitals are seriously negligent. Wants to reduce the “threat” of lawsuits. “The problem of rising costs doesn’t simply have to do with whether liability is capped.”

2:27 — Final question, from audience: what is most important thing for Americans to do in respect to health care debate. Groans from WH press corps for “hard-hitting” question.

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