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Pioneer Editorial: Obama sets stage for health talks

President Barack Obama, in his address Wednesday night to a joint session of Congress, did an eloquent job of outlining the reasons why we need major health care reform, but again failed to lay out specifics on how to get there.

He avoided using the politically charged term "public option" but there it was near the end of his proposals. The president initially steered away from it, calling for an "insurance exchange," a marketplace where individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for health insurance at competitive prices.

It's an idea being offered by the Senate Finance Committee that could be an end-around to government-run health insurance.

Later, he does talk about creating a government-run health insurance option for those who don't have insurance and can't afford it. And they would have to pay premiums that would make the program self-sustaining. Good goals, but self-sustaining? President Obama said he would not sign a bill that would add a dime to the national deficit, and this point might be the deal-breaker.

And while he gave assurances that this new public option gives choice but does not force government health care, try to convince opponents of that.

The bickering is over, the president said, but the lack of clarity in the so-called public option will continue to stall comprehensive health care reform.

The president did do a good job of dispelling the constant misinformation about the Democrats' various plans, despite the absolute rudeness of a South Carolina House member who shouted "you lie" when Mr. Obama said none of the proposals would cover illegal immigrants.

The few details he provided are key to a final plan, such as requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions and prohibiting insurance companies from dropping coverage when the policyholder gets sick or from watering coverage down when it is most needed. Insurance companies would be required to cover at no extra charge routine checkups and preventive care.

The president said there was bipartisan agreement on about 80 percent of the plan, but he should have noted that agreement on the final 20 percent won't come easy. That's where the American public must weigh in and let their lawmakers know what is best. But that opinion must be unfettered from the barrage of misinformation that has surrounded the issue for most of the August recess.

Hopefully, the president set the stage for earnest debate Wednesday night.