The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Obama says repealing the ACA would inflict ‘real human suffering’ on Americans

Watch the highlights of former president Barack Obama’s speech at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers event on Sept. 20. (Video: The Washington Post)

Speaking Wednesday at an event hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, former president Barack Obama said that any effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act would end up “inflicting real human suffering” on Americans who had gained health coverage and consumer protections under the 2010 law.

Obama’s remarks, made at the foundation’s inaugural Goalkeepers event in New York City, comes as Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are waging an intense push to pass a measure sponsored by Republican Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (La.) that would transfer the funding provided under the law — and many of its requirements — to the states, where they could be dramatically altered. It also makes deep cuts to the existing Medicaid program.

New GOP health care bill will cut funding to 34 states, analysis shows

“It wasn’t perfect, but it was better,” the former president said of the ACA. “And so when I see people trying to undo that hard-won progress, for the 50th or 60th time, with bills that would raise costs or reduce coverage, or roll back protections for older Americans, people with preexisting conditions, the cancer survivor, the expectant mom, or the child with autism, or asthma, for whom coverage will once again will be unattainable, it is aggravating.

“And it’s certainly frustrating to have to mobilize every couple of months to keep our leaders from inflicting real human suffering on our constituents,” Obama added. “But typically, that is how progress is won and how progress is maintained on every single issue.”

We have to stand up for each other and recognize that progress is never inevitable, that it often can be fragile, it’s in need of constant renewal,” he continued, “and our individual progress and our collective progress depends on our willingness to roll up our sleeves and work, and not be afraid to work.”

Graham issued a quick retort, noting in a statement, “It’s unrealistic to expect President Obama would acknowledge his signature issue is failing.

“It’s no surprise President Obama opposes sending money and power back to the states and closer to where the patients live,” Graham added. “Obamacare was designed with the exact opposite goal in mind — which is to consolidate health care power and decision-making in Washington.”

While Obama received a warm reception from the audience — which laughed when he mentioned Republicans’ attempts to repeal the ACA for “the 50th or 60th time” — his comments are unlikely to influence the current debate on the Hill. There are just a handful of Republican senators who will tip the balance one way or another on the Cassidy-Graham proposal, because it needs 50 votes to pass under current budget rules, and then passage of the bill in the House will hinge largely on whether conservative lawmakers there — and Republicans from states that would be disproportionately affected by the legislation — are willing to back the measure.