Obama: health plan to include consumer protections

July 29, 2009 8:42:02 AM PDT
President Barack Obama pledged Wednesday that health care legislation he is seeking will bar insurance companies from denying coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions and include numerous provisions to hold down the cost of care for consumers. With the president traveling to two states, a sheet produced at the White House said insurance companies would have to obey limits on the out-of-pocket costs they could demand, and would not be permitted to charge copays or other fees for preventive care such as checkups or mammograms.

Children would remain eligible for family coverage through age 26, rather than the current 23, a step that would reduce the number of young uninsured adults. White House aides circulated the list in Congress in advance of the president's speeches later in the day in North Carolina and Virginia.

Obama retooled his pitch for legislation to overhaul the nation's health care as Democrats in both houses struggled to show progress before lawmakers leave the Capitol for a monthlong vacation.

The president plans to make this argument, according to the White House: "if you already have health insurance, reform means more security and stability." Back in Washington, aides will spread that message using e-mail and social networking sites.

Many, if not all, of the consumer protections the White House highlighted are included in legislation under discussion in both houses.

In addition to a ban on insurance denial based on pre-existing conditions, the White House said industry would be required to renew any policy as long as the premiums are paid in full. Nor could insurers charge higher premiums because of gender, and they would be prevented from placing annual or lifetime caps on coverage.

The list of consumer protections made no mention of curbing the current practice under which insurance companies charge far higher premiums for customers with pre-existing medical conditions.

To coax legislation from Congress, the president is making a major investment in his time and political capital.

In an interview with Time magazine, Obama disclosed he's been spending at least one-third of his time in recent days on the issue.

Obama is seeking legislation to extend health insurance to millions who lack it, at the same time he has asked lawmakers to slow the growth in the skyrocketing cost of medical care overall.

On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of senators agreed tentatively on a plan to squeeze an additional $35 billion out of Medicare over the next decade and larger sums in the years beyond, according to congressional officials, a step toward Obama's goal of curbing the growth of health care spending.

Under the plan, an independent commission would be empowered to recommend changes in Medicare annually, to take effect automatically unless Congress enacted an alternative. In addition to saving money, the proposal is aimed at turning the program for those age 65 and over into one that more clearly rewards quality, officials said.

The commission would be required to recommend $35 billion in savings over a decade from Medicare. There was no immediate estimate on the longer-term effects of the provision, the topic of exhaustive discussion among three Democrats and three Republicans groping for a compromise on legislation atop the administration's domestic agenda. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss details of the private talks.

A group of conservative-to-moderate Democrats is seeking to exempt additional businesses from a requirement to offer insurance under the bill, and to alter the rules governing a government insurance option, among other changes.

The White House and Democratic leaders originally set deadlines of votes in the House and Senate on health care legislation before lawmakers leave the Capitol for a monthlong summer vacation. While Speaker Nancy Pelosi has yet to publicly abandon that timetable for the House, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did so last week, and it appears the earliest either house can vote is in September.

In the House bill, the uninsured won't be covered until 2013 - after the next presidential election. In fact, it would take the better part of a decade - from 2010-2018 - to get all the components of the far-reaching proposal up and running.

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Associated Press Writers David Espo and Erica Werner contributed to this report.

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