Democrats Stress Immediate Effects Of Health Bill Republicans have threatened to make the controversial health care overhaul a central issue in every congressional race next fall. So from President Obama on down, Democrats have begun telling voters not just what the overhaul will do for them but what it will do for them right away.

Democrats Stress Immediate Effects Of Health Bill

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

One of the arguments that President Obama is making to undecided House Democrats, as well as to voters, is this: The health-care overhaul isnt just a big fix for down-the-road problems. Some benefits of the bill would kick in right away, as NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: If the health-care bill passes, many of the most important consumer benefits won't kick in 'til 2014, including the guarantee that anyone can buy insurance, the exchanges where individuals and small businesses can shop for policies, and the government subsidies to help pay for them.

It's hard to campaign on changes that voters won't see for more than three years, though. So in Ohio this week, President Obama repeatedly stressed the overhaul's smaller, but more immediate, impacts.

SOUNDBITE OF SPEECHES

President BARACK OBAMA: This year ... within the first year ... starting this year HORSLEY: The president offered a laundry list of benefits that would take effect in six months to a year, including a guarantee that children can get health insurance even if they have a pre-existing illness, and a measure aimed at one the president's core constituencies: young adults.

President OBAMA: I see some young people in the audience.

(Soundbite of cheering)

President OBAMA: If you're an uninsured young adult, you will be able to stay on your parents' policy until you're 26 years old...

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

President OBAMA: ...under this law.

HORSLEY: Democrats in Congress are being encouraged to use these talking points in selling the overhaul to their constituents. The White House is trying to shift the conversation away from the messy legislative process, which Republicans are keying on, and instead focus on what the health-care overhaul would do for families and businesses.

In the short run, it would provide tax credits to small businesses that offer health insurance to their workers. And it would give $250 to seniors to help pay for prescription drugs, if they fall in the coverage gap known as the doughnut hole.

Mr. Obama highlighted a variety of fast-acting steps to regulate new insurance polices. No more lifetime limits on coverage, and no more canceling a policy just because someone gets sick.

President OBAMA: All new insurance plans would be required to offer free preventive care to their customers, starting this year. So free checkups to catch preventable diseases on the front end. Thats a smart thing to do.

(Soundbite of applause)

HORSLEY: But the overhaul doesnt directly limit the cost of those insurance policies. In fact, in the short run, costs could go up. Insurance companies will have to cover more right away but the requirement that people buy insurance doesnt take effect 'til 2014.

Karen Ignagni, who heads an industry trade group, warns between now and then, more people may drop their insurance, leaving a smaller pool of policyholders to pay for expanded coverage.

Ms. KAREN IGNAGNI (President, America's Health Insurance Plans): The policy goal is correct, and that is to give people more health security. It's very difficult to accomplish without having everyone participate if you don't expect that the costs are going to go up.

HORSLEY: Anti-tax watchdog Ryan Ellis warns there are other immediate effects that the president didn't talk about in his Ohio speech. Ellis, who's with the group Americans for Tax Reform, says the overhaul would quickly impose multibillion-dollar levies on drug makers, medical device makers and the insurance industry itself.

Mr. RYAN ELLIS (Policy Director, Americans for Tax Reform): Look, there's short-term benefits that the president is talking about, that he has every right to talk about from this bill. But if he's going to be honest, he needs to also talk about the short-term costs. There's taxes that kick in right away. And there's even more taxes that kick in after a very few years.

HORSLEY: Those later taxes would take effect between 2013 and 2018, primarily affecting the nation's wealthiest families and people with so-called Cadillac health insurance.

Democrats say they're confident they can win the political argument if voters consider both the costs and the benefits of the health-care bill. They'll have an easier time, though, if some of the benefits are in effect when voters go to the polls.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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