WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Obama pledged Tuesday night to cure Americans from what he called "the crushing cost of health care," saying the country could not afford to put health-care reform on hold.
President Obama tells Congress Tuesday night: "I have no illusions this will be an easy process."
"This is a cost that now causes a bankruptcy in America every 30 seconds. By the end of the year, it could cause 1.5 million Americans to lose their homes," Obama said in his speech to a joint session of Congress.
Obama pointed to the increasing number of uninsured and rapidly rising health-care premiums, which he said was one reason small business closed their doors and corporations moved overseas.
Obama's prescription for health-care reform included making "the largest investment ever" in preventive care, rooting out Medicare fraud and investing in electronic health records and new technology in an effort to reduce errors, bring down costs, ensure privacy and save lives.
"I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process," the president said, adding that he was scheduling a gathering next week of "businesses and workers, doctors and health-care providers, Democrats and Republicans."
"The cost of health care has weighed down our economy and our conscience long enough. So let there be no doubt, health-care reform cannot wait, it must not wait and it will not wait another year," Obama said to a standing ovation.
The president also said Americans would see a cure for cancer "in our time." Obama's mother, Ann Dunham, died of ovarian and uterine cancer at 52.
Obama made health-care reform a central theme of his presidential campaign and promised not only to achieve universal health care in his first term, but also to cut the average family's health care health-care costs by $2,500.
In his speech Tuesday, he placed health-care reform alongside education and energy reforms as central pillars of his recovery plan.
An estimated 45.7 million Americans are uninsured, and for those with coverage, and health-care costs have been rising four times faster than wages, Obama said.
The average cost of family health-care coverage more than doubled from 1999 to 2008, from $1,543 to $3,354, according to a report by the Institute on Medicine released Tuesday.
During his speech, Obama touted changes in the health-care system already passed in his month-old administration as part of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Watch the president address health care »
"Already, we have done more to advance the cause of health-care reform in the last 30 days than we have in the last decade," he said. "When it was days old, this Congress passed a law to provide and protect health insurance for 11 million American children whose parents work full-time."
Signed into law on February 17, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act also includes $87 billion to bolster state Medicaid programs and offers a 65 percent subsidy for nine months to help the unemployed pay for their COBRA coverage.
COBRA allows the unemployed to pick up the payments and continue the health insurance coverage they had with their former employer. The subsidy would help an estimated seven million Americans, according to a congressional estimate.
The president's health-care message was applauded by Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a national organization for health care consumers.
"President Obama is absolutely correct that the nation's economy and the federal budget deficit cannot be fixed without meaningful health-care reform," Pollack said in a statement.
All About Health Care Costs • Health Care Policy • Barack Obama