In Iowa, Obama Tries To Sell Health Law To Public

The health care bill may be law, but the work is not done. The Senate approved a package of changes to the law on Thursday, and sent it to the House for a final vote. Meanwhile, President Obama was in Iowa today, as part of his campaign to sell the law to the public. Robert Siegel talks to NPR's Scott Horsley.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

As Congress was putting the finishing touches on the health care fixes today, President Obama traveled to Iowa City, Iowa. He told a crowd there that their courage and perseverance led to the successful overhaul of the nation's health care system.

President BARACK OBAMA: This historic change didn't start in Washington, it began in places like Iowa City, places just like this.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Pres. OBAMA: With Americans just like you.

SIEGEL: Iowa City is where candidate Barack Obama first spelled out his plan for a health care overhaul almost three years ago.

NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president and, Scott, tell us about today's event.

HORSLEY: Well, Robert, today's speech was, in a sense, a return by the president not just to the place that launched his White House campaign, but to the Yes We Can spirit of that campaign. Just one small but telling detail, instead of the very traditional John Philip Sousa music that's usually played when the president's shaking hands with the crowd, today they went back to the more rocking soundtrack they used on the campaign trail: Bruce Springsteen, U2, Brooks and Dunn.

And the president, once again, invoked that Yes We Can line at the end of his speech. The chorus that came back from the crowd: Yes We Did.

SIEGEL: In the weeks leading up to the health care vote, Scott, the president gave lots of speeches around the country in which he talked up the benefits of the health care bill. He is still doing that, but is there a difference in the message now that it's law?

HORSLEY: There is. He's continuing to list the ways that the health care law will affect people directly, you know, those who have not been able to get insurance or maybe who have insurance but worry about losing it. And he's still offering a spirited defense of the measure. But because it's now law, he says voters don't have to take his word for it. They can see for themselves how this overhaul is going to work.

Pres. OBAMA: Three months from now, six months from now you're going to look around, you're going to be sitting in the doctor's office, reading through the old People magazines.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. OBAMA: And you'll say, hey, this is the same doctor, same plan. It wasn't Armageddon.

SIEGEL: But, in fact, a lot of the big changes brought about by this law won't take effect for a few years.

HORSLEY: That's right. It's going to be four years before people who have preexisting illnesses are guaranteed insurance coverage. Four years till everyone has to buy insurance and four years till the government starts offering subsidies to those who can't afford it. So, you know, that's two whole election cycles from now.

What the president is doing between now and the November election is stressing some of the fast-acting provisions in the bill. Today, he talked about subsidies for small businesses, singling out a popular bookstore, Prairie Lights here in Iowa City, as the kind of business that might get some help in paying its workers health insurance. The provision that will say that insurance companies cannot drop policyholders when they get sick kicks in six months from now.

And one provision that's very popular on college campuses, starting in six months, young adults will be able to stay on mom and dad's health care policy until they turn 26.

SIEGEL: But there's still a lot of skepticism about the health care bill, now the health care law. There's opposition to it. Republicans are campaigning against it. Some are calling for repeal of it. What's the president saying about all of that opposition to his plan?

HORSLEY: His message and the provocative message from the administration has basically been to Republicans bring it on. The White House is convinced that when people get to know about the benefits in the health care bill, now the health care law, they will like it. And the way the president put it today is they're not going to be willing to put insurance companies back in the driver's seat. We're not going back, he said, the country's going forward. And if the Republicans want to campaign on a platform of reversing those consumer protections, President Obama says, bring it on.

SIEGEL: Okay, thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley, who's in Iowa City traveling with the president.

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