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As Obamacare rollout nears, president checks in with state officials

U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement about the violence in Egypt while at his rental vacation home on the Massachusetts island of M
U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement about the violence in Egypt while at his rental vacation home on the Massachusetts island of M

By Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama sought a progress report from state officials on Wednesday on the rollout of his signature health care law, stepping up his profile on the issue as the launch of a key provision of the law nears on October 1.

Obama spoke by videoconference with the officials responsible for setting up new online health insurance exchanges that are at the heart of the program. These markets will offer private coverage at federally subsidized rates to individuals and families with low-to-moderate incomes.

With the launch date less than five weeks away, the administration faces a daunting challenge in getting the programs up and running in all 50 states in the face of steady opposition from Republicans, who have sought to hold up or cut funding for parts or all of the law.

"The president recognized that the diligence, creativity, and commitment of those working in the states to set up the marketplaces ... have been especially important given the limitations on time, resources, staff, and in some states, support from across the political spectrum," the White House said.

The White House said Obama "heard about the progress they have made in setting up the new marketplaces" but did not provide details.

The reforms, formally called the Affordable Care Act but also known as Obamacare, constitute the most sweeping new healthcare laws since the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, and the program faces fierce political opposition. Many Republicans believe the law is a disaster that will raise, rather than lower the costs of health care.

The administration has recently delayed an important segment of the roll-out, raising doubts about implementation at a time of intensifying attack from Republicans and other foes.

As the enrollment period nears, the president is likely to devote increasing amounts of time and attention to promoting his plan. The administration wants 2.7 million younger people between the ages of 18 and 35 who are currently uninsured to sign up for health coverage.

The exchanges are expected to provide subsidized health coverage for 7 million people in 2014 and 22 million by 2016.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that healthcare costs, as measured by premiums for the coverage employers provide, have been rising more slowly since the law was passed than before. He also said that reports showing a jump in hiring at small businesses contradict claims the health law is a job killer.

"Some might even say that this is evidence that the Affordable Care Act is having a positive impact on small businesses, their bottom line, and, of course, their employees," Earnest said at a briefing.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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