NPR logo Obama: Health Overhaul Will Protect Consumers

Obama: Health Overhaul Will Protect Consumers

President Obama went on the road with a refocused health care message Wednesday, telling North Carolina and Virginia residents that overhauling the system would benefit the insured as well as the uninsured by providing more consumer protections.

"If you're an American who already has health insurance, the reform we're proposing will provide you with more stability and security," he told about 2,000 people at Broughton High School in Raleigh, N.C. "And if you're one of the 46 million Americans who don't have coverage today, you will finally be able to get quality, affordable coverage.

Personalizing his message with a reference to his mother, Obama said her last days were spent worrying about whether her insurance company would claim she had a pre-existing condition in order to wiggle out of coverage.

Under the new plan, insurers would no longer be able to deny coverage because of a pre-existing condition, nor would they be able to drop a person's coverage because of serious illness, he said.

"What we need, and what we will have when we pass these reforms, are health insurance consumer protections to make sure that those who have insurance are treated fairly and insurance companies are held accountable," Obama told the crowd.

Later, Obama told about 70 workers at a Kroger supermarket in Bristol, Va., that the health care overhaul would ensure that they get better coverage, lower overall costs and more opportunities to continue their coverage if they change jobs.

Most of the workers at the unionized store receive health insurance through their employer, and many have feared that the plan would cost them money and would provide them with nothing they don't already have.

But Obama said his health initiatives would be good for Americans' pocketbooks as well as their health.

Under the overhauled system, insurance companies would have to pay the full cost of routine tests that help prevent illness, such as mammograms and colonoscopies. There would also be annual and lifetime caps on what consumers pay for deductibles, co-pays and other out-of-pocket expenses. And companies couldn't set higher premiums based on gender.

"The bottom line is, your costs certainly will not go up, and they very well could go down, depending upon the kind of health insurance you have now," he said.

Some protesters gathered outside the Kroger, located in the tri-state region of Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. A few held signs reading "Obamacare is political malpractice" and "Keep your hands off my health care."

Elaine Powers, 69, said she thought the elderly would be restricted to what she called "end of life care" and would only be given pain pills. Another woman said she was worried that she wouldn't be able to choose her own doctor.

Obama is trying to keep up the pressure as the House and Senate continue to work on different versions of a health care bill before the August recess.

Both bodies reported new progress Wednesday afternoon, with Sen. Max Baucus of Montana saying a new estimate from the Congressional Budget Office had the cost coming in lower than White House projections.

The CBO report said the health care initiatives, which aim to extend coverage to 46 million uninsured Americans, would cost about $900 billion over 10 years. The White House put unofficial estimates at $1 trillion.

Meanwhile, Obama told both groups that the U.S. may be seeing the beginning of the end of the recession, though a complete recovery will take time.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.