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Obama continues touting health law as kickoff approaches

With just five days to go before the Affordable Care Act hits another major milestone, President Obama is keeping up his efforts to raise awareness about the health law's benefits and counter the ongoing conservative campaign against it.

The president will deliver a speech at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Md., on Thursday, according to the White House, "to lay out one of the cornerstones of what it means to be middle class in America: having access to affordable health care that you can count on."

On Tuesday, open enrollment begins for the new Obamacare online, state-based marketplaces -- called exchanges -- where consumers should be able to comparison shop for private insurance plans. The success of the exchanges depends largely on convincing people, especially young and healthy people, to actually use them.

Perceptions of the law, however, have been negative since it passed in 2010. The latest CBS News/New York Times poll shows that 51 percent of Americans disapprove of the law, while just 39 percent say they approve of it. Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, maintain that dismantling the Obamacare is one of their top priorities and have been using high-stakes budget negotiations as leverage to try to either defund or delay the law.

In his weekly address on Saturday, Mr. Obama made clear, "That's not happening. And they know it's not happening."

While Congress may not be able to repeal the Affordable Care Act with Mr. Obama in office, even the president has acknowledged its short-term success is uncertain.

"I don't have pride of authorship for this thing, I just want the thing to work," Mr. Obama told former President Bill Clinton at an event in New York Tuesday hosted by the Clinton Global Initiative. He said that public opinion would shift in favor of the law once it is completely in effect. "The devil you know is always better than the devil you don't know."

To prove the new aspects of the law will be better than anticipated, the administration is touting a report showing that premiums on the new marketplaces will be around 16 percent lower than projected. Maryland, where the president will be speaking Thursday, is one of five states where premiums for the lowest-cost plans will be on average below $200 a month.

The exchanges will also offer variety, the report shows: On the 36 exchanges that will be fully or partially run by the federal government, consumers will be able to choose from an average of 53 different health plans.

Republicans have nevertheless hammered the president for failing to live up to his health care promises, such as his 2008 campaign promise to lower the average family's premiums by $2,500 annually.

"Maybe a person has a health insurance plan they have been struggling to pay, but it is important to them and they want to make sure their kids are covered, they want to make sure their spouse is covered," Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, one of Obamacare's most vocal opponents, said on the Senate floor during a marathon speech this week. "Yet every year they see their premiums going up and up and up."

Critics of the law have also pointed out that some consumers purchasing limited coverage on the individual market could potentially find cheaper insurance plans now than they will on the exchange system. On top of that, insurers have resorted to limiting the health care providers in their network plans as a means of keeping premiums down.

The White House counters that the insurance plans offered on the exchanges aren't comparable to the coverage offered now for a few different reasons. For one thing, insurers on the exchanges will have to offer a certain level of benefits they may not have to currently. There are also new consumer protections to take into account, such as the rule barring insurers from turning away customers with pre-existing conditions.

"This is not an apples-to-apples" comparison, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday. "It's a, you know, apple full of worms compared to an apple that's fresh and delicious."

While plans on the exchanges may have limited networks, Carney said that for the currently uninsured, it beats the alternative.

"So there's no question that affordable health care plans, the less expensive ones, are going to be more limited in their benefits," he said. "But they all meet minimum standards, and they all beat the stuffing out of the alternative which is the old insurance. Which is just using emergency rooms around your city or county, hoping to deal with your child's asthma problem."

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