WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Tuesday will announce new health insurance benefits for American consumers, marking the first 90 days since he signed landmark legislation to expand coverage.
The announcement will follow a private meeting between administration officials, several state insurance commissioners, and CEOs of major insurance company, amid concerns over continued premium hikes, the White House said. Obama is expected to attend at least part of the session.
The United States is the only major industrial democracy that lacks a national health insurance system, leaving tens of millions of Americans uninsured at a given time.
Consumers who buy their policies directly faced increases averaging 20 percent this year, according to a survey released Monday by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Although most Americans are covered on the job by employer-funded insurance, about 14 million purchase insurance on the individual market and have the least bargaining power when it comes to costs.
Obama's announcement will cover regulations to implement a so-called patient's bill of rights provided under the new law, said administration allies who were briefed in advance and spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the official announcement.
The consumer safeguards are limited steps that take effect this year. The main provisions of the legislation, including federal funding to help 32 million now uninsured get coverage, won't come until 2014. The administration worries that escalating premiums will force more people drop their policies before the law is fully implemented.
Obama foreshadowed parts of his announcement last week, telling a nurses' group that the patient bill of rights would include the elimination of lifetime dollar limits on coverage, a particular problem for people dealing with hard-to-treat types of cancer. Insurance companies would be prohibited from canceling the policies of people who get sick, he added. And health plans would be required to provide consumers with simple and clear information about their choices and rights.
The law also calls for other safeguards to be put in place this year, including allowing women to pick an ob-gyn specialist as their primary care doctor and forbidding insurers from denying coverage to children on account of a previous medical problem. Protection against insurance denials would extend to adults in 2014, when most Americans would be required to carry coverage.