Obama touts patient protections in health reform law

The changes taking effect Thursday will: 

• Ban insurance companies from denying coverage for children based on preexisting conditions (in 2014, this rule will be expanded to apply to patients of all ages);

• Prohibit insurers from using unintentional application errors to drop coverage when patients get sick;

• Allow young adults to remain on their parents' health plans until age 26;

• Prohibit plans from setting lifetime dollar limits on coverage (in 2014, annual limits will be banned as well); and

• Require all new health plans to cover a minimum set of preventive care services.

That combination, Obama added, will "lower premiums, make healthcare more affordable [and] give you more security."

"All of these things are designed to [ensure] that you have basic protections in your interactions with your insurance company — that you're getting what you paid for," Obama said.

Several recent surveys highlight the extent of the cost and coverage crisis. Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that nearly 51 million people (16.7 percent) lacked health insurance coverage last year, up from 46.3 million (15.4 percent) in 2008. 

Earlier in the month, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that worker premiums for employer-sponsored family plans have skyrocketed nearly 14 percent this year, while employer contributions fell by roughly 1 percent.

There's little mystery why Democrats' are touting the changes with such fanfare. Six weeks before tough midterm elections, party leaders continue to face criticism from conservative reform opponents that the new law will saddle patients with new costs and fewer benefits. The Democrats are hoping Thursday's insurance reforms will offer tangible evidence that coverage benefits, for millions of Americans, will instead be expanded.  

Wednesday's event featured several families already affected by the law, including the first New Hampshire resident to enroll in the state's newly created high risk pool. Gail O’Brien, a previously uninsured cancer sufferer, enrolled in the high-risk plan on July 1, and began chemotherapy four days later.

"I'm feeling great," O'Brien said. "And if it wasn't for the bill, I would probably not be feeling great."

The president also slammed those health reform critics — mostly Capitol Hill Republicans — who are now actively fighting to repeal the law.

"I want them to look you in the eye," he said to O'Brien, "and say, 'Sorry, you can't buy health insurance.'"

The White House this week plans to release reports indicating how the reforms will affect each state, and to launch an overhauled website (www.WhiteHouse.gov/HealthReform) detailing the changes.