Bill Clinton makes the case for Obamacare

September 4, 2013
Former President Bill Clinton (L) speaks with Coca-Cola group director for women's economic empowerment for Eurasia Africa Group Susan Mboya-Kidero (R) on a trip to Johannesburg, South Africa last month. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)
Former president Bill Clinton speaks with Coca-Cola group director for women's economic empowerment for Eurasia Africa Group Susan Mboya-Kidero on a trip to Johannesburg, South Africa, last month. (Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

Former President Bill Clinton made a detailed case for the Affordable Care Act Tuesday, arguing that both opponents and supporters of the law had an obligation to make it work.

"It seems to me that the benefits of reform can’t be fully realized, and the problems can’t be fixed, unless both the supporters and the opponents of the legislation work together to implement it," he said, adding even fixing the law's problems require collaboration. "We all get paid to show up for work, and we need all hands on deck here."

While the event bore some of the typical hallmarks of the Clinton era -- the 42nd president ran late, prompting a half-hour delay in its start time -- he took the rare step of reading directly from notes throughout the roughly 45-minute speech.

"I have done something unusual for me," said Clinton, who is known for ad-libbing his speeches. "I actually wrote this whole thing out."

Speaking before a supportive audience that included Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D), Clinton highlighted both the problems facing the current U.S. health care system and the benefits and drawbacks of the new law, known as Obamacare.

He called the current system "unaffordable and downright unhealthy for millions of Americans," noting the country ranked first in the world in terms of health care costs, and 25th in terms of health care outcomes. Noting than we pay $1 trillion more than many other developed countries each year on health care, Clinton said, "A trillion dollars is a lot of money to spot our competitors in a highly-competitive global economy."

White House aides had touted the speech last week, describing Clinton as the "Secretary of Explaining Stuff," and the former president did delve into the weeds as he described how health care reform had reduced medical errors and introduced "competitive bidding for durable medical equipment."

"All these things are making a difference," he argued.

Clinton admitted the law had "some problems," including the fact that workers earning between $20,000 and $30,000 who are only insured personally by their employers will now be required by law to provide insurance for their families even though these immediate relatives will not qualify for health care subsidies. He also criticized the federal subsidies as not generous enough, noting that small businesses will only get tax credits for insuring up to 25 employees, even if they insured up to 50.

Still, Clinton argued that the problems emerging as the health care law is implemented pale in comparison to what Republicans have forecast.

"So far the direst predictions for adverse consequences have not occurred, and I don’t believe [they] will," he said.

Juliet Eilperin is a White House correspondent for The Washington Post, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.
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