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US President Obama Unveils New Health Proposals

Posted on 22 Feb 2010

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One of the key proposals gives the US government new power to block health insurers from imposing excessive premium increases.

It is the first time that Mr Obama, who has made healthcare a key priority, has put forward proposals himself.

He will on Thursday hold bipartisan talks at the White House on the issue.

The Republican reaction to Mr Obama's efforts has so far been critical, with House Republican leader John Boehner saying the proposals took the same approach as that of previous Democratic bills.

"The president has crippled the credibility of this week's summit [on Thursday] by proposing the same massive government takeover of healthcare based on a partisan bill the American people have already rejected," he said in a prepared statement.

'More Affordable'

Mr Obama's proposal "helps over 31 million Americans afford healthcare who do not get it today - and makes coverage more affordable for many more," the White House said on its website.

It gives the federal Health and Human Services Department - in conjunction with state authorities - the power to deny substantial premium increases, limit them, or demand rebates for consumers.

Mr Obama's latest plan requires most Americans to carry health insurance coverage, with federal subsidies to help many afford the premiums.

It bars insurance companies from denying coverage to people with existing medical problems or charging them more.

A tax on high-cost health insurance plans objected to by House Democrats - and trade unions - is to be scaled back.

Mr Obama says reform of the healthcare system is crucial for the US economy to rein in costs over the long term.

The plan would put "our budget and economy on a more stable path by reducing the deficit by $100bn [£64.5bn] over the next 10 years - and more than $1tn [£644bn] over the second decade - by cutting government overspending and reining in waste, fraud and abuse", he said.

Bitter Debate

The Democrats' loss of a Senate seat in Massachusetts to Republican Scott Brown in January deprived them of their filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate, although they still control both houses.

Thursday's debate, which is to be televised, is seen as a key moment in Mr Obama's bid to pass new legislation, and comes after months of often bitterly-contested congressional debates.

Mr Obama referred to the talks in his weekly radio address on Saturday, saying: "I don't want to see this meeting turn into political theatre, with each side simply reciting talking points and trying to score political points.

"Instead, I ask members of both parties to seek common ground in an effort to solve a problem that's been with us for generations."

The House of Representatives and the Senate adopted different versions of the bill at the end of last year, and they must now be combined into a single bill Mr Obama can sign into law.