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Republican U.S. senator warns of 'sticker shock' from Obamacare

Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) speaks to the media after the Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington December 18, 2012. REUTE
Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) speaks to the media after the Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington December 18, 2012. REUTE

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Weeks before healthcare exchanges under President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul open next month, a Republican senator attacked the plan on Saturday by saying Americans may experience "sticker shock" from higher prices.

Senator John Barrasso said in the weekly Republican address released on Saturday that the Affordable Care Act is hurting middle-class Americans.

"Many families are going to have real sticker shock when they see their new insurance rates - even families who get government subsidies," Barrasso, an orthopedic surgeon, said.

A White House official disputed Barrasso's characterization, citing studies showing that repealing the healthcare law would lead to higher rates.

Consumers will be able to buy health insurance from state exchanges - a key component of the healthcare overhaul - starting on October 1. The exchanges allow residents of each state to seek subsidized health coverage.

The government aims to sign up 7 million people in the first year. That number is expected to grow to 22 million in 2016, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Republicans are bitterly opposed to the healthcare plan, which passed without a single Republican vote in Congress in 2010 and is seen by Obama's supporters as one of his greatest achievements as president.

Barrasso said there is "no question" that the U.S. healthcare system needs reform, but at a lower cost, not a higher one.

He cited a Kaiser Family Foundation study this week showing that the average family premium for people getting health insurance through their employers has risen by nearly $3,000 from when Obama took office in January 2009.

The Obama administration also cited the study, which came out earlier this week. It stressed that the study showed that insurance premiums will be more affordable on the healthcare exchanges.

"In fact, if the ACA were repealed, individuals and families could see rate shock, with $1,000 to $8,000 in premium hikes based on data from the Kaiser Family Foundation," the White House official said on Saturday.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Robert Rampton; Editing by Eric Beech)

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