*Barack Obama told Congress on Wednesday “the time for bickering is over” and called for quick action on a broad healthcare overhaul that would dramatically transform the U.S. health system and insurance market.

In a sometimes emotional speech, Obama said lawmakers were “closer to the goal of reform than we have ever been” and spelled out proposals he said would improve stability for those with insurance and expand the options for those without, including a controversial government-run “public option.”

He issued a sharp rebuke to critics of his healthcare drive, accusing them of substituting scare tactics for honest debate.

“I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it’s better politics to kill this plan than improve it,” he told a joint session of Congress and a national television audience. “If you misrepresent what’s in the plan, we will call you out.”

Democrats gave Obama frequent standing ovations and Republicans at times murmured unhappily and held aloft copies of a Republican-sponsored healthcare bill. One Republican lawmaker, South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson, shouted “you lie” when Obama said his plan would not pay for healthcare for illegal immigrants. (Wilson immediately apologized for his comment. Read more HERE.)

Lawmakers laughed openly when Obama said “there remain some significant details to be ironed out.”

Obama hoped the speech would rejuvenate his flagging push for an overhaul of the $2.5 trillion healthcare system, which has bogged down in Congress amid a flood of criticism and disputes.

He said his overhaul would cut healthcare costs, improve care, regulate insurers to help protect consumers and expand coverage to more than 46 million uninsured Americans. He repeated his pledge that the proposal, which would cost $900 billion over 10 years, would not increase the budget deficit.

As promised, he spelled out several concepts he wanted to see included in any final bill passed by Congress, including creation of an insurance exchange where individuals and small businesses could shop for policies.

He also reiterated his support for a government-run insurance plan — the so-called “public option” — that has drawn strong opposition from critics who say it would harm insurance companies and amount to a government takeover of the industry.

But he made it clear the lack of a public option in any final bill would not be a deal-breaker.

“The public option is only a means to that end — and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal,” he said.

For MORE of this Reuters article by John Whitesides, go HERE.