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Obama Underscores 'Urgency'  in Finishing Health Care Reform

U.S. President Barack Obama says health care reform is urgently needed in the United States, saying the existing state of health care is not an option.

Mr. Obama, flanked by nurses at a White House event, said Wednesday that health insurance premiums have risen three times faster than wages, with the costs so expensive that they can "consume a family's entire budget."

He praised a Senate committee for passing health care reform legislation Wednesday, and urged Congress to finish work on health care reform before its August recess.

Mr. Obama said the Senate proposal is similar to legislation produced by Democrats in the House of Representatives, and he said both proposals will lower costs, raise quality, and ensure fair treatment of consumers by the insurance industry. Both plans include a government-run insurance plan that would compete with private insurance providers.

Republicans have criticized the proposals, saying they will lead to job losses and higher taxes.

Tuesday, House Democrats unveiled their version of health care reform legislation. The plan calls for an increase in taxes on high wage earners, which has drawn the ire of fiscally conservative critics. Republican House member Roy Blunt voiced his party's concerns of the plan, saying it will kill jobs, limit access to health care, raise taxes and lead to what he described as a "government takeover of health care."

Democrats say they are determined to hold a House vote on the bill before the August recess.

Controversy over extending health coverage to uninsured Americans centers on how to pay for it - with estimates putting the cost at $1 trillion over a decade.