September 22, 2010

USA: White House tries to give healthcare a human face

WASHINGTON / Reuters / September 22, 2010

U.S. President Barack Obama makes remarks during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Legislative Conference Phoenix Awards Dinner in Washington, September 18, 2010. Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

By Patricia Zengerle
President Barack Obama launches 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 will travel to the suburban backyard of a family home in Falls Church, Virginia, to talk about provisions of the new law that will come into effect on Thursday, six months after it became law.

The event will include 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.

One provision that takes effect 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.

"The president is looking at tomorrow as a milestone in implementation to ensure that people know about what's in the law so that they can actually take advantage of it and benefit from it," a senior administration official told reporters.

Convincing the public could be difficult, with polls showing 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.

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.

Administration officials insist that voters will come to love the plan once they realize its benefits, just as the government-run Medicare health insurance program for the elderly has become hugely popular even though it was also passed despite fierce resistance from Republicans.

"Poll after poll after poll shows that no, people don't want to do away with it. They want to give it a chance to get implemented," an administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in advance of Obama's event.

"There were people who opposed reform six months ago. Those people still oppose reform and are using scare tactics to scare people about the new law," the official said.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)