President Barack Obama challenged critics of his push to overhaul America's health care system to stop the ``outrageous myths'' fanning an acrimonious, nationwide debate on the president's top domestic priority.
Mr. Obama said Saturday that the overhaul being debated in Congress would not, as has been claimed by many conservative opponents, cover illegal immigrants nor use taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions.
The president reiterated that he does not intend a government takeover of health care - as critics have stated at contentious town hall-style meetings with members of Congress.
``This is an issue of vital concern to every American, and I'm glad that so many are engaged,'' Mr. Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address. ``But it also should be an honest debate, not one dominated by willful misrepresentations and outright distortions, spread by the very folks who would benefit the most by keeping things exactly as they are.''
``So today, I want to spend a few minutes debunking some of the more outrageous myths circulating on the Internet, on cable TV and repeated at some town halls across this country,'' the president said.
On Sunday, an independent senator counted on by Democrats in the health care debate showed signs of wavering when he urged Mr. Obama to postpone many of his initiatives because of the economic downturn.
``I'm afraid we've got to think about putting a lot of that off until the economy's out of recession,'' said Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman. ``There's no reason we have to do it all now, but we do have to get started. And I think the place to start is cost health delivery reform and insurance market reforms.''
He added: ``I think it's a real mistake to try to jam through the total health insurance reform, health care reform plan that the public is either opposed to or of very, very passionate mixed minds about.''
In his weekly address, Mr. Obama also took a swipe at ``death panels,'' an idea former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin introduced on her Facebook page.
``As every credible person who has looked into it has said, there are no so-called death panels - an offensive notion to me and to the American people,'' Mr. Obama said. ``These are phony claims meant to divide us.''
The United States is the only developed nation that does not have a comprehensive national health care plan for all its citizens, and about 50 million of America's 300 million people are without health insurance.
Mr. Obama campaigned on a promise of offering affordable health care to all Americans, but the recession and a deepening budget deficit have made it difficult to win support for costly new programs. And overhauling the health care is politically risky, with lobbyists for insurance companies, doctors, trial lawyers and others fiercely defending their interests.
Mr. Obama has proposed a system that would include government and private insurers. Opposition Republicans say that private insurers would be unable to compete, leaving the country with only a government-run health program, which they equate to socialism - a dirty word in America's political arena. They warn that could leave Americans with little control over their health care.
In the latest example of the opposition facing Mr. Obama, a group opposed to the president's health-care proposals said it was planning an ad campaign to run locally while the first family vacations for the week in Martha's Vineyard. Conservatives for Patients' Rights said more than $150,000 was spent on the television ads, which urge the president to abandon his proposal to include a government-run health insurance option. The ads will run in the Boston and Martha Vineyard's markets, including spots that will air during the series between the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago White Sox, Mr. Obama's favorite baseball team. The president also is fending off criticism from his left flank. Mr. Obama angered his liberal base this past week after seeming to suggest he would be OK with a plan that didn't have a government-run health insurance option.
``This is one idea among many to provide more competition and choice, especially in the many places around the country where just one insurer thoroughly dominates the marketplace,'' Mr. Obama said.
``Let me repeat: It would be just an option; those who prefer their private insurer would be under no obligation to shift to a public plan.''
Mr. Obama said: ``this one aspect of the health care debate shouldn't overshadow the other important steps we can and must take to reduce the increasing burdens families and businesses face.'' Republicans, in their weekly address, accused Mr. Obama of being the one misrepresenting his proposal.
``As opposition to the Democrats' government-run health plan is mounting, the president has said he'd like to stamp out some of the disinformation floating around out there,'' said Republican Rep. Tom Price. ``The problem is the president, himself, plays fast and loose with the facts.''
Price said the whole idea should be scrapped and lawmakers should start anew with a plan that ensures sure patients -- not Washington or insurance providers -- are the top priority.
``We all know that when the government is setting the rules and is backed by tax dollars, it will destroy, not compete with, the private sector,'' said Price, a doctor. ``The reality is, whether or not you get to keep your plan, or your doctor, is very much in question under the president's proposal.''