In an interview with the new magazine Ozy published Tuesday, former president Bill Clinton identified three problems with the fall rollout of the Affordable Care Act, "only two of which the administration can fix."
Clinton compared the botched launch of the federal health insurance marketplaces to the debut of the Medicare Part D program under President George W. Bush. He called that debut "a disaster," said the fact that states are opting out of expanded Medicaid coverage is hampering the program and suggested that President Obama needs to address the plight of Americans who are losing their plans on the individual market.
Obama needs to deliver on his promise that the new law would not force Americans to change their insurance plans, Clinton said.
"They were the ones who heard the promise, if you like what you’ve got you can keep it," he said, referring to people who are now receiving cancellation letters from insurers. "I personally believe, even if it takes a change in the law, the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to these people and let them keep what they got."
Referring to the Medicare prescription drug coverage launch several years ago, Clinton said that when it comes to a rocky federal health-care rollout, "this happened once before."
"It was a disaster. There were people who even lost their prescriptions for their existing medications," he said of the Medicare Part D debut. "And they fixed that."
But when it comes to the fact that many Americans won't be getting expanded Medicaid coverage, Clinton said, "For the states who opted out of that, there’s nothing the federal government can do."
Overall, Clinton noted, Americans should not let these immediate problems color their perception of the landmark law. "The big lesson is that we’re better off with this law than without it," he said.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) later seized on Clinton's remarks. "These comments signify a growing recognition that Americans were misled when they were promised that they could keep their coverage under President Obama’s health care law. The entire health care law is a train wreck that needs to go," Boehner said in a statement.
He added, "President Clinton understood that governing in a divided Washington requires a focus on common ground, and I hope President Obama will follow the former president’s lead.”
During the daily White House press briefing, press secretary Jay Carney said Obama agrees with Clinton's assessment of the law's problems and has tasked his aides with fixing them. "And I think it's important to note," Carney added, "that President Clinton in that interview also said, and I quote, 'The big lesson is that we are better off with this law than without it.' "