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Obama expected in Raleigh to promote health care reform

The heated debate over health care reform will take center stage in Raleigh Wednesday as President Barack Obama visits Broughton High School to tout his health care plan.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — President Barack Obama is expected to promote health care reform at a Raleigh high school Wednesday, the latest stop on his national tour to tout the controversial plan that would ensure health insurance for every American.

WRAL-TV and WRAL.com will carry the president's visit LIVE. Watch the video online, and interact with others via a live chat.

The president's $1 trillion-plus plan would include a new government insurance program that would compete with private insurers and bar insurance companies from excluding people with pre-existing health conditions. The plan, Obama has said, would hold down health care costs and extend coverage to most of the 50 million uninsured Americans.

In recent weeks, Obama has spoke out in support of his plan, putting pressure on Congress to pass the plan before it recesses next month. But the plan has drawn criticism from Republicans and some Democrats because of cost and coverage concerns.

Obama's latest stop is at Broughton High School in downtown Raleigh and an important one for the president.

An estimated 1.8 million residents – 21 percent of the population – have no health care in North Carolina, according to a report by the Center for American Progress. For those who have coverage, health insurance premiums have increased 75 percent from 2000 to 2007.

About 2,200 ticketholders are expected to attend the town hall meeting.

Air Force One is expected to land at Raleigh-Durham International around 11:10 a.m..

Raleigh police said they expected heavy traffic congestion around the school and urged motorists to avoid the area.

Although formal street closings probably would not be necessary, police said, some streets near the high school might be shut down temporarily to accommodate vehicle or pedestrian traffic related to the event.

Parking in the surrounding area will also be very limited, and Broughton officials urge attendees to carpool to the event.

Meanwhile, Broughton on Tuesday put finishing touches on preparations for the president's visit, which will include a performance by the school's jazz ensemble. Broughton students will also sing the national anthem and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

The school plans to hang a banner in Obama’s honor, and present the 44th president with a No. 44 jersey.

"I’m sure there are a lot of other places (President Obama) could go, but it means a lot to our kids and our community, and it follows a great tradition,” parent Dr. Randall Williams said.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell and former presidential candidate John Edwards have spoken there in recent years.

A nearby florist was chosen to help set the stage for Obama’s visit by arranging the floral arrangements.

“It is exciting," said Frank Campis, owner of Fallons Flowers, which provided floral arrangements for the event. "Not many people get to say that they delivered flowers for the president.”

Ronnie Bagwell, owner of a nearby insurance company, also expressed concern Tuesday that no one had talked to nearby business owners about Obama’s visit, and potential traffic backups.

"I thought they would have given us some kind of update about what was going on, and we will have to get through (Wednesday) and see how confusing it is,” said Bagwell, owner of Bagwell and Bagwell Insurance.

The president's visit is expected to be a short one. He will head Wednesday afternoon to another event at a supermarket in Bristol, Va.