October 24, 2021

Obama boasts Obamacare is ‘reality’ in U.S. even as Supreme Court ruling looms

President Barack Obama speaks at the Catholic Hospital Association Conference about healthcare reform, Tuesday, June 9, 2015, at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama speaks at the Catholic Hospital Association Conference about healthcare reform, Tuesday, June 9, 2015, at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Weeks before a major Supreme Court ruling that could kneecap his signature achievement, President Obama defended his health overhaul Tuesday as an historic achievement that will lift up millions for years to come, dismissing its steady stream of political and legal headwinds as stubborn attempts to “ignore reality.”

Mr. Obama cast his 2010 law as a measurable success that overcame historic challenges to provide health security to more than 16 million Americans and counting, even as congressional Republicans point to insurers’ requests for double-digit rate hikes and cheer a lawsuit that could dismantle the law in more than 30 states.

“Once you see millions of people of having health care, once you see that all the bad things that were predicted didn’t happen, you’d think that it would be time to move on,” Mr. Obama said.

His speech to a cheering audience at the Catholic Health Association in Washington avoided a major point of contention between the administration and faith-based nonprofits — notably Catholic universities, hospitals and charities — who object to Obamacare’s birth-control rules on employers.

Nor did Mr. Obama cite the specifics of a pivotal case before the Supreme Court, known as King v. Burwell, that could largely determine the fate of the law in two-thirds of the country.

By the end of this month, the justices are scheduled to say whether subsidies should be restricted to the handful of states that set up their own insurance exchanges.

Up to 6.4 million Americans risk losing their health coverage if the justices side with challengers who sued over how the administration interpreted a four-word phrase in the 2010 law.

Instead of wading into that fight directly, Mr. Obama said his critics are taking ignorant swipes at the law, which he pitched as a moral endeavor to secure the health and financial well-being of a 15 percent minority of uninsured Americans who for years had been ignored by power brokers in Washington.

He said job growth has been steady and many enrollees like their new plans, so his detractors are guilty of “Chicken Little” predictions that will never occur.

“When you talk to people who actually are enrolled in a new marketplace plan, the vast majority of them like their coverage The vast majority are satisfied with their choice of doctors and hospitals and satisfied with their monthly premiums,” he said. “They like their reality.”

He also said the law has improved coverage for people who already had it, although the White House scrambled in late 2013 to stanch a political crisis by letting states and insurers temporarily extend millions of health plans that did not comply with Obamacare’s coverage standards.

GOP lawmakers criticized Mr. Obama’s speech to the association — a nationwide Catholic ministry of more than 600 hospitals and 1,400 longterm care providers — on Tuesday before he said a word, saying the law is hurting more people than it helps.

“If he gives another rosy speech about the impact of this terrible law, he will be once again intentionally and deliberately misleading the people in his audience,” Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, said in a floor speech.

Mr. Obama’s remarks amounted to his second full-throated defense of the law in as many days.

He blasted the “King” challengers on Monday, telling reporters at a G7 summit in Germany the Supreme Court should not have taken up the subsidies case in the first place.

President Barack Obama speaks at the Catholic Hospital Association Conference about healthcare reform, Tuesday, June 9, 2015, at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The justices are scheduled to say whether the law’s text restricted the tax credits to states that set up their own insurance exchange, as the challengers claim, or if customers in at least 34 states that use the federal HealthCare.gov should continue to receive them.

The administration says millions of customers who bought plans for the 2015 year on HealthCare.gov are relying on a government subsidy that averages $263 per month. Without the subsidies, healthier enrollees would likely drop coverage first, sending insurance markets into a tailspin.

Mr. Obama has downplayed the need for contingency plans in case the subsidies are struck down, saying he expects to prevail and that an adverse ruling would be impossible to fix unless the GOP-led Congress agreed to a simple rewrite of one sentence in the lengthy law.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are searching for a rescue plan that would minimize political blowback from a decision, while moving away from Obamacare, although party leaders have signaled they will not unveil a firm plan until after the court rules.

“Republicans aren’t interested in a one-sentence fix — unless that sentence is: ‘Obamacare is repealed,’” Mr. Barrasso said.

Mr. Obama said his opponents are trying to erase an American milestone that had eluded presidents and lawmakers throughout the 20th century.

“Leaders from Teddy Roosevelt to Ted Kennedy wanted to reform [health care],” he said.

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