WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama said he is ordering new efforts to curb waste and fraud in government health programs as he campaigns for an overhaul of the U.S. medical system.
"Nowhere is reform more needed than when it comes to our health care system," Obama said Wednesday at a high school in the St. Louis suburb of St. Charles, Mo. "Billions of dollars that should go to patient care" are wasted on abuses and subsidies to insurance companies, he said.
Obama is trying to rally public support for the biggest changes to U.S. health care in 45 years over unanimous Republican opposition. He said his proposals show there are ways to pay for expanding insurance coverage to tens of millions of Americans without running up the federal budget deficit.
He urged Congress to take action. "Now is the time, now is the moment," Obama said.
The president earlier signed an order authorizing government agencies to use private auditors to uncover fraudulent claims and payment errors, a step the White House says may save $2 billion over three years.
The order, along with pending legislation, will help keep the Medicare health program for the elderly solvent, Obama said.
Obama said he is striving to cut wasteful government spending to deal with "enormous long-term deficits."
The administration is stepping up pressure on supporters and opponents. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius spoke Wednesday to a meeting of America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade group.
She warned them that if the health system overhaul fails, premiums eventually will rise high enough that many businesses will be forced to drop policies.