President Barack Obama
on Tuesday night touted the results of his 2010 healthcare overhaul
and urged every American who knows someone without health insurance
to help them get covered by the end of March.
That was the president's key healthcare message as he gave his first State of the Union address since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's coverage options kicked in for millions of Americans earlier this month. As policy experts predicted, Obama focused primarily on the economy and jobs in his speech. But even though launch of the insurance exchanges has been deeply embarrassing for the president, he could hardly pass up the opportunity to publicize it as the administration works to enroll millions of Americans in new coverage.
Shying away from any mention of problems with HealthCare.gov
and canceled insurance plans, the president promoted the benefits of his signature piece of domestic policy legislation. He asserted that 3 million Americans under the age of 26 have gained health coverage under their parents' health plans, and he claimed that more than 9 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid because of the Affordable Care Act.
That number reflects about 3 million who have selected private plans
through the state and federal insurance exchanges, as well as about 6 million deemed eligible for Medicaid. It's unclear, however, how many of those Medicaid applicants are newly eligible under the law or even new to the program. The tally includes numbers from some states that are counting beneficiaries who were already covered and are re-enrolling, according to a blog post by CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner
Obama also attempted to make the Affordable Care Act personal. He told the story of Amanda Shelley, a physician assistant from Arizona who previously had difficulty accessing health insurance, but started to receive health coverage on Jan. 1. Just two days later, Shelley began feeling sharp pains and had to undergo emergency surgery on Jan. 6--an event that would have bankrupted the Arizona single mother just a week earlier, Obama said.
Because of the law, the president said, no American can ever again be dropped or denied coverage from a preexisting condition.
"And we did all this while adding years to Medicare's finances, keeping Medicare premiums flat, and lowering prescription costs for millions of seniors."
House Republicans were quick to cry foul on the president's portrayal of the healthcare law. As House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)
sat behind the Obama during the address, Boehner's office issued news releases attacking the content. One emphasized that millions of Americans have lost their health plans or face higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs as a result of the Affordable Care Act.
The president acknowledged the law remains contentious—and he urged its opponents to propose a better plan if they have one.
"Now, I don't expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law," he said. "But I know that the American people aren't interested in re-fighting old battles. So again, if you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people and increase choice-tell America what you'd do differently," he continued. "Let's see if the numbers add up. But let's not have another forty-something votes to repeal a law that's already helping millions of Americans like Amanda," he said, drawing cheers, applause and a standing ovation from Democrats on the House floor.
Meanwhile, the president applauded the work of Democrat Gov. Steve Beshear, who attended the State of the Union, on Beshear's work to get Kentuckians covered.
"Kentucky's not the most liberal part of the country, but he's like a man possessed when it comes to covering his commonwealth's families," the president said, adding that Beshear believes no one should go to work each day praying they don't get sick.
"Steve's right," the president said. "That's why, tonight, I ask every American who knows someone without health insurance to help them get covered by March 31st."
In the official Republican response to the president's speech, House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) offered a negative personal anecdote about the Affordable Care Act to balance Obama's positive one. Recently, McMorris Rodgers said she received a letter from a woman in Spokane who had hoped the ACA would save her money but instead learned that her healthcare premiums would increase nearly $700 a month.
"No, we shouldn't go back to the way things were, but this law is not working," McMorris Rodgers said from the Capitol. "Republicans believe healthcare choices should be yours, not the government's. And that whether you're a boy with Down syndrome or a woman with breast cancer, you can find coverage and a doctor who will treat you." McMorris Rodgers is the mother of a 6-year-old son who was diagnosed with Down's Syndrome days after his birth.
But while McMorris Rodgers said she hopes the president will join the GOP "in a year of real action," she did not outline any specifics on what plans Republicans will offer on healthcare or other issues.
A few weeks ago, Boehner said he expects healthcare to be a topic of discussion when House GOP members meet in Maryland this week for their annual retreat.
Three Senate Republicans this week unveiled a healthcare plan
that would eliminate the mandates and taxes in the Affordable Care Act but continue to provide tax credits to help lower-income Americans get health insurance. Follow Jessica Zigmond on Twitter: @MHjzigmond