WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is promoting his health care overhaul's benefits for small businesses as he tries to rally public support behind the new law scorned by Republicans and protesters.
A speech Thursday in Portland, Maine, is the second in a series of planned appearances to plug the sweeping changes coming to health care. Obama was to focus the event on the short- and long-term benefits for small companies, which have suffered during the economic downturn.
After speaking in Maine, Obama planned to travel to Boston to attend two fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee. His trip comes as much of the Northeast is suffering through devastating flooding caused by record-setting rainfall.
One of Rhode Island's Democratic congressmen, Rep. Jim Langevin, sent a letter to the White House Thursday requesting that Obama view the damage to that state during his travels Thursday. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano plans to travel to Rhode Island on Friday.
The president remains on a campaign to sell his newly passed health plan to America, emphasizing different aspects as he goes.
Under the plan, businesses that have 25 or fewer employees with average annual wages of less than $50,000 will receive tax credits this year if they provide health care coverage to their workers. Those credits are expected to increase by 2014, with 4 million small businesses benefiting, according to the White House.
Businesses that may be eligible for the tax credits will receive letters from the government in the coming weeks, another step in the administration's efforts to tout the benefits of the health care overhaul.
Also starting in 2014, companies with up to 100 employees will be able to buy insurance through new state-based purchasing pools, or exchanges, with the goal of giving small businesses the same kind of purchasing power as larger companies. Twenty-two million self-employed Americans will also be able to purchase insurance through the exchanges.
Congressional Republicans were united against the law and many predict that Democrats who voted for it will be dragged down in the November elections. Some Republicans are calling for repeal. Obama and Democratic candidates are trying to sell voters on the plan's benefits for them, and to move past the messy, partisan process and angry protests that marked its passage.
Obama's trip to Portland takes him to the home state of two moderate Republican senators — Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe — whose votes for the legislation the president ardently sought. In the end, he could not win them over. Neither senator planned to be at the event.
Maine's two U.S. House members — Democrats Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud — voted for the bill and were appearing with the president.
Overall, the 10-year, nearly $1 trillion plan Obama signed into law last week will extend coverage to 32 million people who are currently uninsured and will shape how almost every American receives and pays for medical treatment.
The law doesn't require businesses to offer insurance, but hits employers with 50 or more workers with an annual fee if the companies don't insure them and the government ends up subsidizing workers' coverage. Those fines have troubled critics of the overhaul, who argue that the increased costs could bankrupt companies trying to recover from the recession.
The state of Maine has been a leader on health care reform, establishing programs to lower prescription drug costs and extend health insurance to the working poor.
Associated Press writers David Sharp and Karen Testa contributed to this report.
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