ANNANDALE, Va. — President Barack Obama wanted to put a human face on his plans to overhaul health care, and a Virginia woman did just that Wednesday.
Fighting back tears, Debby Smith, 53, told Obama of her kidney cancer and her inability to obtain health insurance or hold a job. The president hugged her — she's a volunteer for his political operation — and called her "Exhibit A" in an unsustainable system that is too expensive and complex for millions of Americans.
"We are going to try to find ways to help you immediately," he told Smith as hundreds looked on at a community college forum — and countless others watched on television. But the nation's long-term needs require a greater emphasis on preventive care and "cost-effective care," he said.
Smith, of Appalachia, Va., is a volunteer for Organizing for America, Obama's political operation within the Democratic National Committee. She obtained her ticket through the White House.
The health care changes that Obama called for Wednesday would reshape the nation's medical landscape. He says he wants to cover nearly 50 million uninsured Americans, to persuade doctors to stress quality over quantity of care, to squeeze billions of dollars from spending.
But details on exactly how to do those things were generally lacking in his hourlong town hall forum before a supportive audience in a Washington suburb. The lingering questions underscore the tough negotiations awaiting Congress, the administration and dozens of special interest groups in the coming months. Lawmakers will return to debating the issue when they return from a one-week recess on Monday.
Obama made no new proposals at the sometimes emotional event. But he vigorously defended his plans while fielding seven questions from the audience at the forum and the Internet.