As Congress struggles for final agreement on health care, President Obama is getting a head start on promoting a permanent ban on "the worst practices of the insurance industry" and other changes in the overhaul he's eager to sign into law.
Obama acknowledged it would take several years -- until 2014 in some instances -- for some of the changes to be fully in place, and that has disappointed consumers and their advocates. He used his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday to play up the brighter side of the overhaul he hopes to sign in time for his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in a matter of weeks.
"Now, it'll take a few years to fully implement these reforms in a responsible way," the president said. "But what every American should know is that once I sign health insurance reform into law, there are dozens of protections and benefits that will take effect this year."
Among them, Obama said:
--People with illnesses or medical conditions will be able to buy affordable health insurance.
--Children with such conditions will no longer be denied coverage.
--Small-business owners who can't afford to cover their employees will get tax credits to help them do so.
--Insurance companies will be required to offer free preventive care to their customers and will be prohibited from dropping coverage when someone becomes ill.
"In short, once I sign health insurance reform into law, doctors and patients will have more control over their health care decisions and insurance company bureaucrats will have less," Obama said. "All told, these changes represent the most sweeping reforms and toughest restrictions on insurance companies that this country has ever known."
House and Senate versions of the overhaul would require nearly all Americans to get coverage and provide subsidies for many who can't afford the cost, but they differ on the details. Among the remaining sticking points are whom to tax, how many people to cover, how to restrict taxpayer funding for abortion and whether illegal immigrants should be allowed to use their own money to buy coverage in new insurance markets.
Obama had several meetings with Democratic lawmakers at the White House this week to help resolve those differences. In one instance, he signaled to House Democratic leaders that they must drop their opposition to taxing high-end insurance plans to pay to extend coverage to millions of uninsured people. The tax, which is in the Senate bill, is largely opposed by House Democrats and organized labor.
Obama and lawmakers also agreed to bypass formal negotiations as they reach for a deal.
Republican lawmakers, saying the bills cost too much and impose too much government control, are near unanimous in opposing the legislation.