U.S. President Barack Obama visits Martin Luther King Charter School during his first presidential visit to New Orleans, October 15, 2009. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama hit back at the health insurance industry on Thursday, accusing it of trying to deceive Americans about healthcare reform and vowing to overhaul the industry in Congress.

Obama criticized insurers for running advertisements critical of Democrats' attempts to reform the health system.

Don't let them fool you. We're going to get this done. We're going to fight for it, he said at a town hall meeting in New Orleans.

Obama said a drop in health insurance companies' stocks this week highlighted the industry's nervousness that a healthcare reform bill may pass.

This is when the insurance companies are really going to start gearing up, he said. Their stock went down when the Senate Finance Committee voted out that bill. Now they're getting nervous and, by they way, they have been wildly profitable over the last decade.

Obama has made his push for a healthcare reform bill that extends insurance coverage and cuts costs his top domestic priority. He received a boost this week when a Senate Finance panel approved its version of a reform measure with the support of Republican Senator Olympia Snowe.

Health insurer stocks were trading lower on Thursday afternoon. The Morgan Stanley Healthcare Payor index fell 1.8 percent while the broader S&P 500 index was higher.

Shares of Cigna were off 2.6 percent, Humana dropped 2.2 percent, while WellPoint fell 1.6 percent.


The president's comments were the latest salvo in an escalating battle between angry Democrats and the insurance industry after it released a report on the eve of a crucial vote in the Senate Finance Committee.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi echoed Obama and said the insurers' recent criticisms made the need for a government-run public insurance option even greater.

Pelosi, the top House Democrat, pointed to a discredited report paid for by the industry that found a healthcare bill pending in Congress would raise insurance premiums for consumers.

When you think of the campaign that's been launched against the public option by the insurance industry -- because they can't take the competition, Pelosi told reporters.

Anyone who had any doubts about the need for such an option need only look at the health insurance industry this week, she said.

Pelosi said last week the House will consider a windfall profits tax on the industry, which has strongly opposed inclusion of a government-run public option in the healthcare overhaul.  

The option is favored by President Barack Obama and liberal Democrats as a way to create competition in the insurance market, but critics fear it could hurt private industry and represent too much government intrusion in the sector.