Obama touts healthcare in new bid to ease doubts

WASHINGTON Sat May 8, 2010 6:03am EDT

President Barack Obama makes a statement about the monthly job numbers from the White House in Washington, May 7, 2010. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

President Barack Obama makes a statement about the monthly job numbers from the White House in Washington, May 7, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Saturday touted the benefits of his healthcare overhaul, renewing a bid to counter Republican criticism and ease public doubts more than a month after he signed reform into law.

In his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama made clear he would keep up his campaign to promote the healthcare revamp, which is already shaping up as key issue in the campaign for pivotal congressional elections in November.

"While it will take some time to fully implement this law, reform is already delivering real benefits to millions of Americans," Obama said. "Already, we are seeing a healthcare system that holds insurance companies more accountable and gives consumers more control."

Designed to reshape the $2.5 trillion healthcare industry, which accounts for one-sixth of the country's economy, the law will extend health insurance to 32 million Americans who lack it. The measure also bars insurance practices like refusing coverage to those with pre-existing medical conditions.

Republicans, who unanimously opposed the bill, have charged that the Democratic president is leading a costly government takeover of healthcare, something Obama strongly denies.

Polls have shown a mixed public response to passage of reform, prompting concern among some Democrats it could add to public anxiety over high unemployment that threatens their election prospects.

Acknowledging that work remains to be done, Obama said, "I've said before that implementing health insurance reform won't happen overnight, and it will require some tweaks and changes along the way." But he insisted, "Already we are seeing how reform is improving the lives of millions."

Hewing to a populist tone, Obama kept the focus on big insurance companies, which fought many aspects of the reform package.

"The new health care law has also begun to end the worst practices of insurance companies," he said. "For too long, we have been held hostage to an insurance industry that jacks up premiums and drops coverage as they please."

Obama said on Monday the administration would offer further details on a new rule allowing young people without insurance to be covered until 26 by their parents' health plans.

"Even though insurance companies have until September to comply with this rule, we've asked them to do so immediately to avoid coverage gaps for new college graduates and other young adults," he said.

Obama cited other changes he said were already done, in the works or soon to come, including a break from unfair rate hikes, insurers barred from dropping coverage for people when they get sick and 4 million small businesses notified they could be eligible for a healthcare tax cut this year.

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Peter Cooney)