Obama tries to humanize the healthcare debate
FALLS CHURCH, Virginia
FALLS CHURCH, Virginia (Reuters) - President Barack Obama launched a new attempt to convince Americans of the advantages of his healthcare overhaul on Wednesday, just six weeks before an election in which the plan has proved more of a liability than a benefit for his fellow Democrats.
Obama traveled to the suburban backyard of a family home in Falls Church, Virginia, to talk about provisions of the new law that will take effect on Thursday, six months after it became law, and highlight his argument that healthcare reform will help control the U.S. budget deficit.
"Sometimes I fault myself for not being able to make the case more clearly to the country," Obama told the audience of about 30 people.
The event included Americans from across the country who are already benefiting from healthcare reform, the White House said, seeking to put a human face on a law that has seemed to many voters to be mostly a confusing array of new regulations.
Republican critics have railed against those regulations as an expensive and unwarranted intrusion into private business, at a time when the country is grappling with high unemployment and record deficits.
Polls show support waning for the healthcare law, which was passed over opposition from health insurers and intense objections of Republicans, many of whom have vowed to repeal it or at least chip away at its provisions.
Participants in the event told their stories of health crises and benefiting from the law. Obama used their stories -- of a woman who had cancer but could not get coverage until the new "high risk pool" started on July 1 or a woman who had not been able to buy an insurance policy to cover her son's eye surgery -- to strike back at the healthcare bill's opponents.
Obama challenged Republicans to acknowledge the consequences for ordinary Americans of paring back the plan. "I want them to look you in the eye and say, 'Sorry, Gail, you can't buy health insurance;' or, 'Sorry, little Wes, he's going to be excluded when it comes to an eye operation that he might have to get in the future,'" Obama said.
Obama underscored what he sees as the tie between the healthcare act and his plans to cut the budget deficit, after criticism that his focus on getting healthcare passed distracted from efforts to strengthen the stumbling economy.
"The single biggest driver of our deficit is the ever-escalating cost of healthcare," Obama said. "So it was bankrupting families, companies and our government. So we said we had to take this on."
One provision that takes effect on September 23 lets parents keep their children on their health plans until their 26th birthday. The White House said up to 2.4 million young adults could gain coverage through their parents.
Another is a measure barring insurance companies from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions.
Many Republicans and even some Democratic candidates are running against the healthcare overhaul as they campaign for the mid-term election on November 2, in which Republicans are expected to cut into the Democrats' majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, speaking at the Reuters Washington Summit, said Republicans will lack a needed veto-proof Senate to repeal Obama's healthcare program so will instead move to make "step by step" changes.
He said insurance companies should be allowed to sell policies across state lines, for example, which he said would boost competition and reduce prices.
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