Obama launches last-ditch health plan

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama unveiled yesterday his own plan to overhaul the US healthcare system in a last-ditch effort to break the deadlock in Congress and prevent the Republicans from derailing his agenda.

A combination of bills already adopted by the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Obama plan aims to provide cover for 31 million uninsured Americans and crack down on exorbitant premium hikes by insurers. As promised, it was published on the White House website 72 hours before a key “summit” with Republican leaders who have sought to block the reforms in a bid to stall Obama’s agenda ahead of key mid-term elections in November.

The plan is widely seen as an attempt by Obama to transform his top domestic initiative from a political liability into a trump card to outwit Republicans who have built their resurgence on blanket opposition.

Obama is hoping to tap into a new supply of political support arising from the recent decision by Anthem Blue Cross of California to raise premiums by as much as 39% from March 1.

His plan grants the federal government greater power than the House and Senate bills to block such hikes and envisages the creation of a new monitoring body made up of health industry experts. It claims it would reduce the US budget deficit “by $100 billion over the next 10 years (about $1 trillion over the second decade) by cutting government overspending and reining in waste, fraud and abuse.”

After months of wrangling, the House of Representatives and the Senate adopted different versions of the bill late last year but they must be combined into a single piece of legislation for Obama to sign into law.

That process has stalled since the Republicans gained the power to thwart Obama’s plans indefinitely last month by capturing a Massachusetts Senate seat to break the Democratic Party’s 60-seat filibuster-proof majority.

Thursday’s live, televised meeting at Blair House, across the street from the White House, could be Obama’s last chance to pass the reform, which has already eaten up large chunks of his political capital.


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