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Obama offers strong defense of healthcare law

President Obama tells consumer advocates in Washington that he is 'not open to efforts that will take this law apart.' But he does say he's willing to 'tweak' the healthcare law to make it better.

January 28, 2011|By Noam N. Levey, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — Speaking to a conference of consumer advocates in Washington, President Obama on Friday delivered a spirited defense of the healthcare law he signed last year and urged supporters of the landmark legislation to continue working to implement it.

"This is making a real difference to families across this country as we speak," Obama told a gathering of Families USA, a leading national consumer group that was critical in passing the law.

"I am not willing to just refight the battles of the last two years. I'm not open to efforts that will take this law apart without considering the lives and the livelihoods that hang in the balance."

The speech offered a contrast with Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday, when the president only briefly mentioned the signature domestic achievement of his 2-year-old administration.

Friday, Obama ticked off the promise of the sweeping law that he signed last March and is now being slowly implemented around the country.

He reminded the audience of the new protections for children with preexisting medical conditions, new aid to seniors to help them buy prescription drugs and new tax breaks for small businesses to help them provide their workers with health benefits.

Obama also linked the new guarantee of health coverage to all Americans to the agenda for job growth he laid out in his State of the Union speech, casting healthcare security a necessary foundation.

At the same time, with the public still divided over the law and Republicans on Capitol Hill pushing for repeal, Obama reiterated an offer to work with Republicans to improve the sweeping law.

"I believe that anything can be improved," he said. "As we work to implement it, there are going to be times where we say: You know what, this needs a tweak; this isn't working exactly as intended, exactly the way we want. Here's a way of doing it smarter, better. We may be able to serve families to lower costs and improve care even more."

Obama has said he is open to proposals to change the medical malpractice system as a way to help control federal spending. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that this kind of tort reform could save the federal government more than $50 billion over the next decade.

noam.levey@latimes.com

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