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Obama endorses key change to healthcare law

President Obama endorsed a significant change to his health reform law Monday, signing on to bipartisan legislation that would allow states to opt out of federal requirements -- including the individual mandate -- three years earlier than scheduled.

The announcement came during a meeting with the nation’s governors at the White House, in which Obama said he was responding to state leaders’ requests for greater flexibility in meeting the requirements of the landmark 2010 legislation.

Under the original health reform law, states would be allowed to opt out of the requirements of the federal proposal in 2017 if they implemented their own health reforms. To obtain a waiver, states need to demonstrate that their own reforms meet the goals of the federal law, including extending coverage to as many citizens as would be available through the exchanges in the federal law, lowering overall costs and not adding to the federal deficits.

The change Obama embraced Monday is based on an amendment co-sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.), which accelerates that timeline to 2014.

“I think that’s a reasonable proposal,” Obama said. “It will give you flexibility more quickly while still guaranteeing the American people reform.”

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In announcing the move, Obama also tweaked one of his potential Republican rivals for his 2012 re-election campaign, highlighting the health reform law enacted in Massachusetts.

“I agree with Mitt Romney, who recently said he’s proud of what he accomplished on healthcare in Massachusetts and supports giving states the power to determine their own healthcare solutions. He’s right,” Obama said.

The Massachusetts law enacted by Romney is considered one of his major liabilities as Republicans appeal to the conservative activists who will dominate the primary elections. Other Republicans have called for repealing the federal law.

The federal law’s individual mandate that all Americans have health insurance is the basis for multiple lawsuits, including one filed by state attorneys general, challenging its constitutionality.

After an electoral drubbing last fall, the president had signaled his willingness to support tweaks to the 2010 law, though he hoped to avoid relitigating the issue.

“Anything can be improved,” he said in his State of the Union address in January. “If you have ideas about how to improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you.”

michael.memoli@latimes.com


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