Amid a fresh assault from opponents, President Barack Obama Thursday plans to demonstrate that his landmark health-care reform law is moving from being an "abstraction" to a program that delivers benefits to "real people," officials said.
Obama is set to give a White House speech in which he is expected to boast how the Affordable Care Act already is giving 8.5 million Americans an average rebate of about $100 per family this summer, just months before new insurance mandates on individuals take effect.
The speech comes after House Republicans late Wednesday approved largely symbolic legislation to delay key coverage requirements. The measures were the 38th and 39th House bills to take aim at the 2010 reforms known as Obamacare, and were aimed at delaying the insurance mandates for individuals, which begin next year.
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The opposition was recently bolstered by the Obama administration's decision to delay the mandate for larger employers to offer health coverage. That step raised questions about whether it is possible for the individual requirements to take effect as scheduled.
Obama — whose signature legislation remains a political flash point three years after becoming law — also is expected to crow at Thursday's event about how Obamacare policies also helped nearly 78 million consumers save about $3.4 billion in insurance premiums in 2012.
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The $500 million or so in rebates are related, Obama administration officials said, to the ACA rule that compels insurers to give customers money back if they fail to spend at least 80 percent of premium dollars on medical care and heath-care quality improvement, as opposed to administrative costs.
That new rule, and other ACA provisions, also lead to the reduced premiums, according to officials, who said some rebate recipients will appear with Obama at his speech.
In related news, the U.S. Health and Human Services Administration on Thursday is releasing data suggesting that some premiums of medium-priced plans that are going on sale in 11 new state insurance exchanges in October are significantly less expensive than had been estimated by the Congressional Budget Office when the law was passed in 2010.
The premiums of lowest-cost plan offered in the so-called "Silver" tier level of insurance coverage in those states—including California, Colorado, New York, Ohio, Florida and Washington, D.C.—on average was 18 percent lower than the CBO's estimates, according to Obama officials.
HHS also found that such premiums available to small employers on ACA marketplaces in six states where data is available are estimated to be an average of 18 percent less expensive than the average premium that small employers would be paying for a pre-ACA silver plan.
The trends, if echoed nationwide, could make it less expensive for millions of people to embrace Obamacare, which requires uninsured individuals obtain health insurance next year or face a financial penalty. Open enrollment in state exchanges offering such insurance, which will range in price and benefits levels assigned to escalating bronze, silver, gold and platinum tiers, begins Oct. 1.
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In a background briefing to reporters, senior Obama administration officials previewed the president's speech and the HHS's survey. They also pointed to news hours before that New York's health insurance exchange's premiums will be on average at least 50 percent lower than individual rates currently available in that state, even without federal subsidies eligible to many of the expected enrollees.
'Real, tangible benefits'
"We're going to have affordable options and coverage," said one official on that conference call. Officials noted that in early 2013, only about 14 percent of health insurers have proposed double-digit rate increases, compared to 75 percent in 2010, a dramatic drop they ascribed to transparency requirements mandated by the ACA.
"Millions of Americans, after years of political debate, are going to see real, tangible benefits," an official said.
That official said that for years now, the law "has been this abstraction" and seen by many as just "a political football between Democrats and Republicans."
"We're going to step away from the abstraction, which is the Washington noise," the official said. "As we get closer to the open enrollment period . . . the abstraction is evaporating, is going away, because the effects are going to be translated into benefits for real people."
The official took a shot at Republicans who have repeatedly staged anti-Obamacare votes that have no chances of success of being enacted into law because of Democratic Senate control and Obama's veto power. "It's ironic that once again, either for the 38th, or 39th, or 40th time, in the wake of this good news out of New York that is going to benefit people, the House of Representatives, yet again, voted to essentially gut the ACA."
The votes Wednesday stopped short of prior attempts by Republicans to fully repeal the legislation. Instead, the House voted 264-161 to delay its individual requirements, and 251-174 in favor of the employer delay, with some Democrats joining the Republican effort.
Although the Obama Administration granted businesses with more than 50 full-time employees a one-year delay in the mandate to provide affordable health insurance plans to their workers or face a $2,000 per worker fine, the administration has said that the individual mandate—and the federal- and state-run insurance exchanges that will help people comply with that mandate—are on course to go into effect Oct. 1 with open enrollment.
During Thursday's speech, Obama is also expected to be joined by members of community groups who will be trying to enlist people in the new insurance exchanges.
—By CNBC's Dan Mangan. Follow him on Twitter @_DanMangan.