WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) – In a planned address on health care reform, President Barack Obama continued to defend the Affordable Care Act, despite the issues that have plagued it since its Oct. 1 launch.
Speaking from Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall — where Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney was joined by the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy to sign the state’s 2006 health care overhaul bill — Obama said they were in a place he described as “the hall where Democrats and Republicans came together to make health care reform a reality for the people of Massachusetts.”
He mentioned the slow start of the state’s own health care reform laws, but also highlighted its gradual improvements.
“Today, there is nearly universal coverage in Massachusetts, and the vast majority of its citizens are happy with their coverage,” he noted.
Obama then mentioned that the ACA itself, known also as “Obamacare,” offers some of the “strongest consumer protections this country has ever known – a true patient’s Bill of Rights.”
It had been anticipated that Obama would attempt to draw parallels between the Affordable Care Act and Massachusetts’ landmark 2006 health law.
When Massachusetts first passed its law, the rate of people signing up grew only sluggishly. As deadlines approached, the pace indeed picked up. And today, the law remains popular and provided a blueprint for Obama’s law.
But the Massachusetts law never faced the kind of high-profile computer woes plaguing the federal law. It also never faced the predictions of failure the federal law has. In part that’s because Massachusetts’ law had a wide array of supporters, including Romney; the Democratic-led Legislature and the business and health care communities.
The program’s website, HealthCare.gov, is still plagued by technical problems that make it difficult — if not near impossible — for people to sign up for health insurance. Additionally, claims have been made that many may lose their current plans, despite promises to the contrary.
Obama first addressed the technical issues with the site.
“Let’s face it, we’ve had a problem. The website hasn’t worked the way it’s supposed to over these last couple of weeks,” he said. “As a consequence, a lot of people haven’t had a chance to see just how good the prices for quality health insurance through these marketplaces really are.”
He then took “full responsibility” for the future improvement of conditions on the site, before urging people to consider the use of offline means of pursuing their health insurance options in the meantime.
“There’s no denying it – right now, the site is too slow, and too many people have gotten stuck,” he added. “And I am not happy about it.”
The president said that, eventually, the HealthCare.gov website will be the easiest way to sign up for insurance.
In regards to those who may lose their existing coverage, Obama said “there has been a lot of confusion and misinformation.”
“One of the things health reform was designed to do was to help not only the uninsured but the underinsured,” he said, then mentioned that many presently have “cut-rate plans” from “bad apple insurers” and had “free reign” in the insurance marketplace.
Still, those with plans that satisfy their needs “are able to keep” them, Obama stated, adding that this provision was part of the “promise” of the ACA.
Obama had strong words for those behind the recent government shutdown who cited their motivation as the defunding or complete eradication of the healthcare law.
He said, “If they put as much energy into making the law work as they do into attacking the law, Americans would be better off.”
“Health care is complicated … and it’s easy to scare folks,” he later noted on the matter. “Some of the same folks trying to scare people … are the same people who have been trying to sink the Affordable Care Act from the beginning.”
Obama added that reform is ”hard, but it’s worth it.”
Earlier today, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified before a Republican-led House committee, a day after Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner was questioned by lawmakers about the problems.
Sebelius has become something of a target for attacks over its botched rollout. Republicans want her to resign and even some Democrats — while not mentioning Sebelius — say someone should be fired. During her testimony, she also put the blame for issues with the federally funded program on her shoulders.
Toward the beginning of his speech, hecklers shouted for Obama to “stop the pipeline” during a synchronized chat, referencing the Keystone Pipeline, which will, upon completion, carry crude oil from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast of Texas. They were soon escorted out by security officials.
He joked after their departure: “That is the wrong rally. We had the climate change rally back in the summer. This is the health care rally.”
Before discussing health care, Obama made several lighthearted comments regarding the upcoming World Series game between Boston’s own Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals.
He also joked that “a Presidential visit is not the biggest thing going on in Boston today.”
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