WASHINGTON, Jan 9, 2010 (AFP) - US President Barack Obama promised Saturday that Americans will see the effects of health reform this year, saying Congress is "on the verge" of approving the overhaul the nation's health care system.
"Now, it'll take a few years to fully implement these reforms in a responsible way," Obama said in his weekly radio address.
"But what every American should know is that once I sign health insurance reform into law, there are dozens of protections and benefits that will take effect this year."
The US House of Representatives and Senate both passed sweeping health reform proposals last year, but their bills differ significantly.
Both measures aim to extend health care coverage to more than 30 million out of the 36 million Americans that lack it, end abusive health insurance company practices, and curb soaring costs that take giant bites out of family and government budgets.
But the Senate stripped out a government-backed "public option" plan to compete with private insurers in order to win over the backing of a handful of centrist Democrats without whom the bill would not have secured the 60 votes needed to pass in the 100-seat body.
The two versions of the plan will now have to be reconciled before final approval.
There are still disputes over how to pay for the plan, and whether the overhaul should create a national "exchange" where Americans could buy coverage, or set up exchanges on a state-by-state basis.
But Obama expressed confidence that lawmakers were "on the verge of passing health insurance reform that will finally offer Americans the security of knowing they'll have quality, affordable health care whether they lose their job, change jobs, move, or get sick."
He said that after his signed the proposal into law, uninsured Americans with a pre-existing illness or condition will be able to purchase coverage they can afford.
Children with pre-existing conditions, the president added, will no longer be refused coverage, and small business owners who can't afford to cover their employees will be immediately offered tax credits to purchase coverage.
According to Obama, insurance companies will be required to offer free preventive care to their customers.
"All told, these changes represent the most sweeping reforms and toughest restrictions on insurance companies that this country has ever known," the president concluded.
"That's how we'll make 2010 a healthier and more secure year for every American - for those who have health insurance, and those who don't."