WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama said Saturday that millions of Americans already are reaping benefits from the new health care law, including tax breaks for some small businesses and help for families with young adults.
In his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama vigorously defended the new law, which passed Congress with no Republican votes and continues to stir strong emotions nationwide. He acknowledged that many provisions will not take effect for years. But he said others are helping some families now.
Four million small business owners and organizations have been told of a possible health care tax cut this year, Obama said. On June 15, some elderly people with high prescription drug costs will receive $250 to help fill the so-called doughnut hole in Medicare's pharmaceutical benefits.
"Already we are seeing a health care system that holds insurance companies more accountable and gives consumers more control," the president said.
Obama said Anthem Blue Cross dropped a proposed 39 percent premium increase on Californians after his administration demanded an explanation. He said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote to all states "urging them to investigate other rate hikes and stop insurance companies from gaming the system."
A new federal agency will provide grants to states with the best oversight programs, Obama said.
His administration also is drafting a "patients' bill of rights" to give consumers information about their health care choices and rights, he said.
As of September, Obama said, "the new health care law prohibits insurance companies from dropping people's coverage when they get sick and need it most."
He said his administration will urge large employers to follow several insurance companies' example of allowing people under 26 to stay on their parents' employer-provided health insurance plans starting this summer, rather than having to wait until September or later.
"Ultimately, we'll have a system that provides more control for consumers, more accountability for insurance companies and more affordable choices for uninsured Americans," Obama said.
Republicans continue to attack the new law as too costly and ineffective. They vow to make it a major issue in the November congressional elections.
A new Gallup poll found that the law's enactment has not lessened Americans' concerns about health care costs. The poll found that 61 percent worry about the costs of a serious illness or accident and 48 percent worry about normal health care costs.