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President Obama Highlights Fast-Acting Health-Care Reforms

US President Barack Obama delivers the weekly address
US President Barack Obama delivers the weekly address

As U.S. lawmakers work toward a final agreement on overhauling health care, President Barack Obama says some of the reforms will take effect this year.  The president admits, however, that other changes will not be in place for several years.

President Obama is working with Democrats in both houses of Congress to merge their two versions of health reform. 

In the meantime, the president is using his weekly radio and Internet address to assure Americans that once he signs a health overhaul bill, they will see immediate benefits. "We are on the verge of passing health insurance reform that will finally offer Americans the security of knowing they will have quality, affordable health care whether they lose their jobs, change their jobs, move or get sick.  The worst practices of the insurance industry will be forever banned," he said.

Mr. Obama hopes to sign the bill into law by early February. 

Some consumers and advocates are disappointed that parts of the plan will not take effect until as late as 2014.  The president acknowledges that some of the changes will take time to implement, but he says others will start working sooner. "Now, it will take a few years to fully implement these reforms in a responsible way.  But what every American should know is that once I sign health insurance reform legislation into law, there are dozens of protections and benefits that will take effect this year," he said.

Mr. Obama says before year's end, insurance companies will be prohibited from dropping coverage when a person becomes ill, people with medical conditions will be allowed to buy affordable health insurance, and some small businesses will get government help in covering their employees. "All told, these changes represent the most sweeping reforms and toughest restrictions on insurance companies that this country has ever known," he said.

The president began his address by talking about the economy.  The U.S. unemployment rate remained at 10 percent in December, and 85,000 more Americans lost their jobs last month.  Mr. Obama said the road to recovery will be long and sometimes bumpy.

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