Obama urges health care reform by year's end

WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President Barack Obama on Saturday urged Congress to pass comprehensive health care reform by the end of the year, arguing it was necessary for the country to maintain its competitive edge.

"Our businesses will not be able to compete; our families will not be able to save or spend; our budgets will remain unsustainable unless we get health care costs under control," the president said in his weekly radio address.

On Monday, Obama unveiled what he billed as a "historic" tie-up with healthcare providers to slash rises in medical costs by up to two trillion dollars over 10 years.

The White House hopes the voluntary plan -- drawn up by groups representing insurance firms, hospitals, doctors, pharmaceutical firms and a labor union -- could eventually save US families as much as 2,500 dollars a year.

In his address, the president noted that the House of Representatives was working to pass a health care reform bill by the end of July - before the August congressional recess.

"That's the kind of urgency and determination we need to achieve comprehensive reform by the end of this year," he pointed out.

Obama's plan includes a push to provide health insurance to an estimated 46 million Americans who have no coverage whatsoever in a system that relies heavily on employer-provided protection.

Some Democrats have called for the introduction of a European-style universal healthcare system, which faces strong opposition from Republican lawmakers.

Meanwhile, Obama urged Washington politicians to set aside partisan bickering and take bold action in the interest of the nation.

"Our success as a nation - the future of our children and grandchildren - depends upon our willingness to cast aside old arguments, overcome stubborn divisions, and march forward as one people and one nation," he said.