WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Wednesday rejected the idea of fully taxing Americans' employer-provided health insurance benefits, but suggested he might be persuaded to tax so-called Cadillac coverage, benefits worth perhaps more than $13,000 a year, in the interest of a compromise with Congress.
"I continue to believe that's the wrong way to do it," the president said in an ABC News special taped Wednesday in the East Room of the White House. The town hall-style event included an audience of 164 invited guests and was aired exclusively on ABC.
Obama said that he would prefer to pay for expanded coverage by eliminating some deductions for higher-earning taxpayers but that "there's going to have to be some compromise."
The special, which drew the ire of Republicans because it didn't include them, came as Obama intensifies his campaign to overhaul the nation's health care system. Polls show Americans want but fear change, and a divided Congress is grappling over what to do.
Obama said he understands Americans' trepidation about changing the system: "They know that they're living with the devil, but the devil they know they think may be better than the devil they don't." He said any reform would be phased in, not happen overnight.
Obama also fielded a pointed personal question during the town hall at the White House. The prime-time program was the latest in a string of events designed to build public support for his plan to slow the rise in health care costs and expand coverage to the nearly 50 million uninsured.
Dr. Orrin Devinsky, a neurologist at the New York University Langone Medical Center, challenged Obama: What if the president's wife and daughters got sick? Would Obama promise that they would get only the services allowed under a new government insurance plan he's proposing. Obama wouldn't bite.
If "it's my family member, if it's my wife, if it's my children, if it's my grandmother, I always want them to get the very best care," Obama said.
Appearing earlier Wednesday on ABC's Good Morning America, Obama said that he "absolutely" expects Congress to pass comprehensive health care legislation by year's end.