BOSTON — President Obama delivered a spirited defense of his health-care law Wednesday in the face of problems with the launch of its online insurance marketplace, vowing that “we are going to see it through.”
In a speech in Boston, Obama took responsibility for making sure that problems with the Web site, HealthCare.gov, are fixed as soon as possible.
But he sharply denounced Republican opponents who he said are placing partisan political considerations above the health of their constituents, and he said they were being “grossly misleading” in charging that people who receive policy cancellation notices from insurance companies are losing their health-care coverage.
He spoke amid heavy criticism of his oft-repeated pledge that people who like their health insurance policies could keep them under his signature domestic initiative, the Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare.
Earlier in the day, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius acknowledged “miserably frustrating” problems with the new insurance marketplaces and said they would be fixed by the end of November.
“This marketplace is open now,” Obama said of HealthCare.gov. “The deal is good. The prices are low. But let’s face it, we’ve had a problem. The Web site hasn’t worked the way it’s supposed to.”
He added: “There’s no denying it: Right now the Web site is too slow, too many people have gotten stuck, and I am not happy about it, and neither are a lot of Americans who need health care. So there’s no excuse for it, and I take full responsibility for making sure it gets fixed ASAP.”
Saying that “there has been a lot of confusion and misinformation” about policy cancellation notices, Obama noted that the law was designed to help not only the uninsured but the “underinsured” as well. He said that before the law, “bad-apple insurers had free rein” to deny coverage to policy-holders who got sick, to jack up premiums and to bill people into bankruptcy. “The worst of these plans routinely dropped thousands of Americans every single year,” he said, referring to the individual marketplace for insurance.
If people had one of these “substandard plans” before the health-care law took effect and they liked their plan, they could keep it, Obama said. But since the law was enacted, if insurers changed a plan, people need to get a new one that meets “a core set of minimum benefits.”
So if people receive notification from their insurer that their plan is being canceled, “just shop around in the new marketplace,” Obama said. “That’s what it’s for.” He said people were likely to find better insurance plans for the same price or less.
“Nobody is losing their right to health care coverage,” Obama said. “And no insurance company will ever be able to deny you coverage or drop you as a customer altogether. Those days are over, and that’s the truth.”
The president added: “I don’t think we should go back to the daily cruelties and indignities and constant insecurity of a broken health-care system, and I’m confident most Americans agree with me.”
Those who condemn the health-care law on this issue without mentioning that people are being encouraged to join better health-insurance plans “are being grossly misleading, to say the least,” he said.
“It’s hard, but it’s worth it,” he said. “It is the right thing to do. We are going to keep moving forward. . . . We are going to grind it out.”
He concluded by telling the audience, “We are in this together, and we are going to see it through.”
Obama paid tribute to the Massachusetts health-care law that was enacted seven years ago by then-Gov. Mitt Romney (R), who ran for president last year against Obama. He said Democrats and Republicans in the state “joined forces to connect the progressive vision of health care for all” with free-market ideas championed by conservatives. “And it worked,” Obama said.
He added that the “parade of horribles,” the worst predictions about the Massachusetts law, “never came true.” Saying that Romney “did the right thing on health care” when he was governor, Obama told the supportive audience at Boston’s Faneuil Hall: “We built the Affordable Care Act on this template of proven bipartisan success. Your law was the model for the nation’s law.”
Obama praised some governors, including Republicans, for working with the new law to help the uninsured get coverage. But others, he said, are “so locked into politics” that they won’t lift a finger to help their own people.
“If they put as much energy into making this law work as they do into attacking the law, Americans would be better off,” Obama said.
“It’s no surprise that some of the same folks trying to scare people now are the same folks who’ve been trying to sink the Affordable Care Act from the beginning,” he said.
Romney did not attend Wednesday’s ceremony — White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he did not believe the former governor was invited — but he issued a statement seeking to differentiate his state law from the federal one.
Making points he stressed during the 2012 presidential campaign, Romney said the Massachusetts law was designed to fit the “unique circumstances of a single state” and that it “should not be grafted onto the entire country.” Romney charged that if Obama had learned the lessons of Massachusetts, millions of Americans would not lose the insurance they were promised and the program’s launch would not have been “a frustrating embarrassment.”
“Health reform is best crafted by states with bipartisan support and input from its employers, as we did, without raising taxes, and by carefully phasing it in to avoid the type of disruptions we are seeing nationally,” Romney said.
Branigin reported from Washington.