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Obama hails 'bill of rights' for health consumers

President Obama today announced a series of new regulations he called a "true patients' bill of rights," and urged insurers not use the health-care overhaul as an excuse to raise premiums.

The new regulations being implemented by the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury, will put in place the strongest consumer protections in the nation's history -- giving Americans "peace of mind," Obama said.

Starting in September, discrimination against children with pre-existing conditions will be banned, along with lifetime or annual limits on insurance coverage and retroactively dropping policies for sick people who made an unintentional mistake on an application.

"Insurance companies should see this as an opportunity to improve care and increase competition," Obama told an audience of some 160 people in the East Room. "They shouldn't see it as an opportunity to enact unjustifiable rate increases that don't boost care and inflate their bottom line."

The president's remarks followed a Roosevelt Room meeting with health insurers and state insurance commissioners. Also at the meeting were HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, health adviser Nancy-Ann DeParle, White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, health insurance lobbyist Karen Ignani, insurance commissioners from more than half a dozen states, and the heads of more than a dozen insurance companies (including Blue Cross Blue Shield, Aetna, WellPoint, Kaiser Permanents and CIGNA). The meeting participants attended the speech.

Obama said the CEOs in the audience needed to know that they would be required to publicly justify premium increases on their Web sites and on the law's new Web site, www.healthcare.gov. He also said that the administration would "fully support states" that exercise their review authority to keep excessively expensive plans out of their insurance exchanges, which will be in place in 2014.

The event marked what the president noted was the 90-day anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act. The White House expects the health-care overhaul to be a campaign issue during this midterm election season, and has made a point of hosting events and speeches to explain to voters how the new law will affect them.

Obama noted that seniors who face a gap in their prescription drug coverage -- known as the "donut hole" -- have begun to receive $250 rebate checks to help them cover the costs of their drugs. He also said that, starting July 1, people with pre-existing conditions would be able to enroll in a new national insurance pool that would allow them to purchase affordable health care. And he had strong words for those who oppose the signature law of his administration to date.

"I've got some folks on the other side of the aisle who still think none of this should happen -- and in fact have said they're going to run on a platform of repeal. They want to go back to the system we had before." Obama said. "We're not going back; I refuse to go back."

He went on to share the stories of people in the audience who have been helped by the overhaul.

"Anybody who favors repeal is welcome to come talk to these people and tell them why we should go back to the status quo prior to us signing this bill -- go back to the way things were," Obama said. "They are going to need to explain why they and tens of millions of Americans should have their new rights taken away. I don't think they'll have that conversation."