Obama goes on offensive over healthcare reform

President Barack Obama will try to revive his stalled national health care plans today by taking the fight to the private insurance companies.

He will propose giving US officials the power to limit rate hikes by health insurance companies, in a last-ditch bid to salvage his signature issue.

The proposal would give the federal Health and Human Services Department – in conjunction with state authorities – the power to deny gross premium increases, roll them back, or demand rebates for consumers, said a White House official.

The United States is the only developed nation that does not have a comprehensive national health care plan for all its citizens. Many people rely on private insurance plans.

Recent insurance premium hikes of as much as 39% sought by Anthem Blue Cross in California have given Mr Obama a new argument for his sweeping health care reforms, now stalled in Congress.

The proposal for tighter oversight of private insurers will be part of a sweeping overhaul plan ahead of a health care summit with congressional leaders of both parties on Thursday.

The broader plan, likely to be opposed by the Republicans, is expected to require most Americans to have health insurance coverage, with federal subsidies to help many afford the premiums. It would bar insurance companies from denying coverage to people with medical problems or charging them more. The expected price tag is around 1 trillion dollars over 10 years.

The summit at Blair House, the White House guest residence, represents a risky and unusual gamble by the administration that Mr Obama can save his embattled overhaul through persuasion – on live TV.

It was forced on the administration by the Senate special election victory of Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown in January. He captured the seat long held by Democrat Edward Kennedy, a lifelong champion of health care reform, who died last year. Brown’s victory reduced the Democrats’ majority in the Senate to 59 votes, one shy of the number needed to knock down Republican delaying tactics.

Thursday’s meeting takes place nearly a year after Mr Obama launched his drive to remake health care – a Democratic agenda priority for decades – at an earlier summit he infused with a bipartisan spirit. The president will point out that Republicans have supported individual elements of the Democratic bills.

About 50 million of America’s 300 million population are without health insurance. The government provides Medicaid and Medicare coverage for the poor and elderly, but most Americans rely on private insurance, usually received through their employers.

However, not all employers provide insurance and not everyone can afford to buy it on their own. With unemployment rising, many Americans are losing their health insurance when they lose their jobs.

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