WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama began a week that will dwell heavily on overhauling the health care system, declaring himself confident Congress will pass "a good health care bill" even though some Republican opponents were trying to kill the measure for political gain.
At the same time, the president and some members of both parties were shifting from hard positions about a government insurance option toward some agreement on reducing medical care costs and restricting insurance company practices.
Consensus appeared to be growing on the need to prevent the insurance industry from denying coverage to those with existing medical conditions or canceling policies when a person becomes seriously ill.
"I believe that we will have enough votes to pass not just any health care bill, but a good health care bill that helps the American people, reduces costs, actually over the long-term controls our deficit. I'm confident that we've got that," Obama said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes."
Still, he said: "There are those in the Republican party who think the best thing to do is just to kill reform. That that will be good politics."
A Washington Post-ABC News poll published Monday found the public in a virtual deadlock on the Democrats' health plan, with 46 percent favoring the proposed changes and 48 percent against them. Americans are also closed divided on whether they should be required to have health coverage, with 51 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed.
The survey was conducted Thursday through Saturday, after the president's address to Congress, and had a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Obama has retaken the offensive on his key domestic policy issue, most notably with his speech last Wednesday night to both houses of Congress. And he sought to turn down the heat over a government-run health insurance plan.
Obama's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, drove home that point again Sunday.
The president "prefers the public option," Gibbs said. "However, he said what's most important is choice and competition."
Sen. Olympia Snowe, the Maine Republican who could be the party's only senator who votes with Democrats, believes choice and competition can be ensured without the public option.
"It's not on the table. And it won't be," she said Sunday. "We'll be using the co-op as an option at this point, as the means for injecting competition in the process."
Snowe sits on a six-member panel – three from each party – of the Senate Finance Committee that is writing a version of the health care overhaul bill.
Instead of the government running a program that provides low-cost health insurance, Snowe and fellow negotiators are considering a not-for-profit cooperative system. Those backing the measure contend it would substantially lower health insurance premiums by cutting out private-industry profits and guarantee coverage to all who want it.
Such systems exist in some areas of the country but their success has been spotty.
Obama will have to be convinced that such a plan can succeed.
"I have no interest in having a bill get passed that fails. That doesn't work," Obama told CBS. "You know, I intend to be president for a while and once this bill passes, I own it."
Obama wants to make sure that any overhaul imposes strict measures to ban companies from refusing insurance to people with existing medical conditions, dropping coverage when policyholders become ill and imposing caps on what a person can claim for one illness or in his lifetime.
Obama is trying to sweeten the deal for Republicans by indicating he is open to their ideas.
In his Wednesday speech and again in the CBS interview, the president signaled he was open to so-called tort reform. Under current practice, doctors and hospitals must pay huge amounts to insure themselves against malpractice lawsuits by patients seeking large court-ordered settlements for poor treatment.
Democrats, thanks to heavy backing from lawyers, have not supported Republican efforts to limit such payments. Doctors – and Republican politicians – say the current system drives up costs through unneeded medical procedures ordered by physicians who fear being sued.
"I would be willing to ... consider any ideas out there that would actually work in terms of reducing costs, improving the quality of patient care," Obama said in the Sunday interview, which was taped Friday.
While he said he did not back limits on court-ordered rewards for malpractice, he said "there are a range of ideas that are out there, offered by doctors' organizations like the AMA (American Medical Association), that I think we can explore."
Gibbs spoke on CNN's "State of the Union." Snowe appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation."