UPDATE 2-With website improved, Obama to pitch health plan

Tue Dec 3, 2013 12:12am EST

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(Adds youth summit details, Republican comment)

By Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON Dec 2 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will try to sell the American people on the relaunch of his troubled healthcare program on Tuesday in a bid to restore confidence in his signature domestic policy initiative and, more broadly, in his presidency.

Obama will speak on the healthcare program, formally called the Affordable Care Act, at 2:30 p.m. (1930 GMT) Tuesday, the White House said.

The rollout of the program through a government website, HeathCare.gov, has been plagued by technical problems since it was launched two months ago. But the White House said on Saturday after an intensive overhaul of the website that it was now working at an acceptable level.

"In his remarks, the President will discuss the ongoing work to strengthen the website and reach Americans seeking these new healthcare options," a White House official said. "He will also focus attention back on the core principles of reform that have been lost in the attention on the website, and invoke the successes that are already flowing from the law."

Healthcare reform has been a cornerstone of the president's agenda since being elected in 2008 and has been a prize sought by Democratic presidents for decades. Yet the embarrassment of the website, which is crucial to enrolling the uninsured in health insurance plans, has undermined confidence not only in the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, but in Obama himself.

The overseer of the repair of HealthCare.gov, Jeffrey Zients, said on Saturday the website could now handle up to 50,000 people at a time and an estimated 800,000 visitors a day. The administration hopes that it can enroll 7 million people in insurance plans before a March 31 deadline.

The day after the president's speech, the White House will hold a "youth summit" where administration officials and representatives of youth organizations will promote the value of enrolling in the health insurance plan. Signing up healthy young people is important to reducing healthcare costs overall.

Republicans, who have opposed the health plan from the outset, saying it is a government overreach that will raise, not lower, health costs, said the president's speech is yet another attempt to awaken interest in a skeptical public.

"The president wants to talk exclusively about Obamacare for the next three weeks," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner. "Twist my arm." (Reporting By Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Christopher Wilson and Ken Wills)

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