23 Feb 2010

Obama reveals new healthcare plan

9:56 am on 23 February 2010

US President Barack Obama has unveiled new plans to reform US healthcare and revive stalled legislation on the issue.

One of the key proposals gives the US government new power to block health insurers from imposing excessive premium increases.

It is the first time that Mr Obama, who has made healthcare a key priority, has put forward proposals himself, the BBC reports.

The Republican reaction to Mr Obama's efforts has so far been critical, with House Republican leader John Boehner saying the proposals took the same approach as that of previous Democratic bills.

The president will hold bipartisan talks at the White House on the issue on Thursday.

Under the proposals, the federal Health and Human Services Department, in conjunction with state authorities, have the power to deny substantial premium increases, limit them, or demand rebates for consumers.

This comes after one of the biggest companies, Anthem Blue Cross of California, announced it would raise premiums by as much as 39% from 1 March.

The White House said Obama's plan would make it easier to bypass Republicans if necessary and push through legislation by a process requiring a simple majority in the 100-member Senate rather than the 60 votes needed to clear procedural hurdles, Reuters news agency reported.

The most likely option for moving ahead would require changes to the Senate bill through a budget process called reconciliation that requires only a simple majority in the Senate of 51 votes and would bypass Republicans.

The Democrats' loss in January of a Senate seat in Massachusetts to a Republican deprived them of their filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate, although they still control both houses, the BBC says.