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White House releases 'patient bill of rights'

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama unveiled a package of consumer benefits yesterday to build support for his health care overhaul within a divided nation and warned Republicans about trying to repeal his landmark law.

"We're not going back," said a defiant president.

Obama also sparred with the insurance industry - but this time he sounded a conciliatory note, praising insurers for meeting some requirements of the law ahead of schedule.

The legislation "is not meant to punish insurance companies," he said, but will bring them millions of new customers. Still, Obama left no doubt his administration would aggressively confront what he called unreasonable premium hikes.

"There are genuine cost drivers that are not caused by insurance companies," Obama said. "But what is also true is we've got to make sure that this new law is not being used as an excuse to simply drive up costs."

Marking the first 90 days since the bill was signed, the White House rolled out new regulations that explain how several provisions of the law will be carried out, including a ban on insurers denying coverage to children in poor health.

With polls showing Americans split over the health insurance expansion, Obama told an invited audience at the White House that Republicans who seek to reverse such protections do so at their own political peril. "We're not going back," the president emphasized.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said, "This shouldn't be called a health care bill of rights, but a bill of goods that the American people aren't buying."

However, many Republicans agree with at least some of the consumer protections, which were among the least controversial elements of Obama's $1 trillion, 10-year overhaul legislation.

The law's major benefit - expansion of coverage to some 32 million uninsured - doesn't come until 2014. So Obama is doing his best to showcase its modest early benefits.

The safeguards announced yesterday apply to most health plans renewing on or after Sept. 23. They include:

Guaranteed coverage for children with pre-existing health problems.

A ban on lifetime coverage limits.

Phasing out annual coverage limits. Such limits will be completely prohibited in 2014.

Prohibiting insurers from canceling the policies of people who get sick.

Guaranteed choice of primary care doctors and pediatricians from a plan's network.

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