President Obama to detail health shake-up

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The Independent US

President Barack Obama is today due to reveal details of how the US government will enforce the health overhaul law.

The announcement is expected to focus on how insurance companies must treat consumers.

The White House said in a written statement that administration officials will meet insurance company chiefs and state insurance commissioners privately at the White House today, with Mr Obama expected to attend at least part of the session.

According to administration allies who were briefed in advance, the President is then expected to announce regulations for implementing consumer safeguards enacted by the law.

The events mark 90 days since Mr Obama signed the health shake-up into law, one of his administration's major victories so far.

The United States is the only major industrial democracy which lacks a comprehensive 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% this year, according to a survey released yesterday by the private Kaiser Family Foundation.

Although most Americans are covered by their employers, about 14 million purchase insurance on the individual market and have the least bargaining power when it comes to costs.

The law's consumer safeguards, called the Patients' Bill of Rights, are limited steps which take effect this year. The main provisions, including federal funding to help 32 million uninsured people get coverage, will not come into force until 2014.

The administration worries that escalating premiums will force more people to drop their policies before the law is fully implemented.

Mr Obama foreshadowed parts of his announcement last week, telling a nurses' group that the Patients' 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 cancelling 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 obstetrics and gynaecology 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 have cover.



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