* Republicans press bid to repeal, replace
* Obama says open to changes in healthcare law
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON, Jan 28 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Friday his healthcare overhaul is an important part of efforts to cut the budget deficit and insisted he will not “refight” the battle to pass the law.
With emboldened Republicans vowing to repeal or replace the healthcare law he signed last March, Obama reiterated his case that the changes it brings are necessary to help rein in the price of the government-run Medicaid and Medicare insurance programs, a huge chunk of the U.S. budget deficit problem.
The Congressional Budget Office said on Wednesday the U.S. budget deficit will hit $1.48 trillion for fiscal 2011, up from a $1.07 trillion estimate in August.
“Health reform is part of deficit reform,” Obama told a meeting of Families USA, a group that advocated for healthcare reform. “We know that health care costs, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid, are the biggest contributors to our long-term deficit. Nobody disputes this. And this law will slow these costs.”
Many Republicans promised in last year’s congressional election campaigns to repeal the healthcare law, and, after winning the majority of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in November, they voted this month to do so.
That effort is unlikely to go further because Democrats still control the Senate, and will not back repeal, but House Republicans still vow to replace the law “branch by branch” with measures they say would bring down soaring costs.
Obama repeated his assertion from Tuesday’s State of the Union address that he was open to changes in the law, but would not refight the two-year battle to get it passed.
He also defended the measure -- which includes provisions such as a requirement that insurance companies not deny health coverage to patients who are sick and that they allow parents to keep their children on their policies until they are 26.
And he laughed at some of the most vitriolic attacks on the law.
“You may have heard once or twice that this is a job-crushing, granny-threatening, budget-busting monstrosity. That’s about how it’s been portrayed by opponents,” he said. “And that just doesn’t match up to the reality. I mean this thing has been in place now for 10 months, all right?” (Editing by Jackie Frank)