By Mary Vanac
The Strongsville, Ohio, crowd warming up for a speech today by President Barack Obama knew what it wanted. Healthcare.
So did dozens of protesters who lined Royalton Road with colorful, waving signs. Most of them wanted the president of the United States to take his ideas for health insurance reform back to Washington.
There was an edge of urgency to the the Strongsville crowd, unlike the crowd at Shaker Heights High School that had warmly welcomed the president in July 2009, when he hosted a healthcare "Town Hall" meeting there. President Obama seemed to feel a heightened sense of urgency too.
Last summer, the president was pressing Congress to pass healthcare reform before its summer break. That didn’t happen. Today, he was back in Ohio as the U.S. House got ready to vote on its version of healthcare reform by the end of the week.
The president’s Strongsville speech began much the same as it did in Shaker Heights — with raucous cheers and applause.
“I love you,” someone shouted — the same as in July. “I love you back,” Obama said before he was introduced by the sister of a Medina County woman who won the president’s attention in recent weeks.
But this time, hecklers called out, “What’s your plan?” and “We want jobs,” during his speech. That didn’t happen last year.
Obama told the crowd about the plight of Natoma Canfield, the Medina, Ohio, woman who wrote him a letter a few weeks ago. After successfully battling cancer more than a dozen years ago, Canfield let her health insurance lapse because she could no longer afford the premiums.
“January was her last month for being insured,” Obama said. “She was forced to hang her fortunes on chance. She hoped against hope that she would stay healthy. That was the letter that I read to the insurance companies.”
But Canfield didn’t stay healthy. Instead of attend Obama’s speech, she was in a hospital bed. “On Saturday, Natoma was diagnosed with leukemia,” Obama said. “Do you want to know why I’m here in Ohio? I’m here because of Natoma. That’s why we need health insurance.”
Obama described his reform plan in many of the same terms as he did in July. “If you like your plan, you can keep your doctor. If you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” he said.
But the president was more focused on portraying insurers as the problem.
“Here’s what my proposal would change,” Obama said. “It would end the worst practices of the insurance companies. This is like a patient’s bill of rights on steroids.”
The president talked about more specifics than he did in July.
“Thousands of Americans who have pre-existing conditions would be able to purchase insurance coverage in the first year,” he said, adding that insurers would no longer be able to drop coverage when customers got sick and would have to offer free preventive care.
“Number one is insurance reform,” Obama said. “The second thing is, for the first time, uninsured individuals and small businesses would have the same choices for healthcare insurance as the members of Congress have.
“It’s the middle class, working people, who are getting squeezed, and that’s who we have to help.”
Obama and other Democrats also have worked out how they would pay for reform since July. For instance, insurers would pay a new fee to help expand coverage.
“Here’s the bottom line: Our proposal’s paid for,” Obama said, “which is more than can be said for our colleagues across the aisle when they passed that prescription drug program.”
He said his plan also “would bring down the cost of healthcare for businesses, families and the federal government."
“We need courage,” Obama said, repeating a shout from a crowd member. “It comes down to what kind of country do we want to be.”