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Analysis: Obama speech gets high marks for breadth, not for depth

President Barack Obama arrives to speak about health

President Barack Obama arrives to speak about health care reform before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill. (Sept. 9, 2009) Photo Credit: Getty Images

President Barack Obama scored a big rhetorical victory in his speech on overhauling the health care system last night - but some supporters of reform said he left them worried about the details.

"He addressed holding the insurance companies accountable and having health care cost less and no American should have a problem with that," said Christopher Hahn, who heads the government affairs practice for the Mineola law firm of Meltzer Lippe.

PHOTOS: President Obama delivers health care speech, with GOP reaction (silent and otherwise)

"He does not plan on increasing the deficit by one dime and that will make it very difficult for moderate and responsible Republicans to oppose this. . . . But I would have liked him to be more definitive."

Obama's speech had all the stirring resonance demanded by the historic changes he was advocating, and he took pains to find the middle ground as well, offering nods to good ideas from both the left and the right. Then he fired a few shots across the bow of his opponents, warning he would "call them out" if they deliberately misrepresent proposals for political gain.

Dr. Irwin Redlener, a longtime adviser to Hillary Rodham Clinton on health care reform, called it "a remarkable speech - I think it's in a sense what we've all been waiting for."

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"He established a moral and ethical basis in addition to the financial basis that fixing a very broken health care system was absolutely essential," Redlener said. "I also was impressed that he called out those people who have been maliciously mischaracterizing the plans. . . . It's now, as far as I'm concerned, a perilous situation for Democrats who cannot get behind what needs to be done."

Gwen O'Shea, president of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, was pleased that Obama addressed the concerns of those who are already insured, offered consumer protections and had a plan for covering the uninsured.

"This is not about breaking down the whole health care system," she said.

Jack Coughlin of Deer Park, a retired New York police detective who has been a vigorous critic of Democratic health care proposals, said he liked some parts of Obama's plan.

One was allowing private sector, for-profit corporations to compete across state lines, creating nonprofit health care co-ops. But he didn't like what he called "Obama's insistence on creating a federal bureaucracy that is not needed."

Donna Kass, co-director of the Long Island Health Access Monitoring Project, and a longtime advocate here for health care reform, pronounced herself disappointed by the speech. That was in part because she felt the public option Obama outlined does not go far enough in covering the uninsured.

"If it only covers 5 percent of the people it won't pack enough of a clout to be able to negotiate prices and lower costs," she said. What's more, "he didn't say anything at all about regulating the premiums."

And while Obama is proposing a mandate that everyone be required to carry basic health insurance, Kass noted that it comes with a hardship waiver for those who can't afford it. "A mandate with a waiver - it's a contradiction in terms.

"So the speech was beautiful . . . but the fine details are very troubling," she said.

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PHOTOS: President Obama delivers health care speech

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