Obama touts ACA successes, highlights contrasts with GOP plans

(Story updated at 5:00 p.m. ET)

President Barack Obama drew sharp contrasts Thursday between the reformed health insurance system he brought into being and the type of system Donald Trump and other Republican presidential candidates are promising to replace it with.

He cited the Affordable Care Act provisions barring insurance discrimination based on preexisting medical conditions, extending coverage for adult children up to age 26 on their parents' health plans, offering no-charge preventive care, and reducing out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors, as well as the law's coverage expansion to nearly 20 million Americans.

“If you ask Republicans about this, they say, 'Those are OK, we want to repeal the other parts,' ” the president said on his visit to Milwaukee. “But when you add it up, that's the law. Why repeal it? We can't let that happen.”

Obama traveled to Milwaukee to congratulate the city on its successful 2016 Obamacare enrollment drive that signed up an estimated 75% of previously uninsured residents, a higher percentage than any other U.S. city. That's despite the fact that Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker has been an ardent opponent of the ACA, refusing to expand Medicaid as the law allows.

“It's an example of what community outreach can do, even in the face of a governor who is not supportive of the ACA,” Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, told the New York Times.

The president's speech came as the leading Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, released a brief, seven-point healthcare plan that would repeal and replace the ACA. Trump's proposal would let individuals fully deduct health insurance premiums on their income tax returns, but makes no mention of any subsidies to help people buy coverage, as offered under the ACA. The plan also does not address insurance discrimination based on health status.

Obama cited the case of Wisconsin resident Brent Brown, who voted against him twice, but wrote the president a letter saying the ACA had saved his life by making it possible for him to buy health insurance, despite a serious preexisting condition. Before the ACA, Brown said he hadn't been able to afford costly treatment for an autoimmune disease. Because of the law, he said he was able to get insurance and receive the treatment he needed.

“I was against (the ACA) at first—very against it,” Brown wrote. “I saw things change after the Affordable Care Act … my President, you saved my life, and I am eternally grateful.”

The president also cited the case of Karen George, who was finishing law school when her husband was laid off and her family lost its health insurance. Because of the ACA, they were able to get affordable coverage. And when she experienced chest pains, she told Obama in a letter, she went to the doctor rather than trying to wait until the pain went away, as she would have done if the family lacked coverage.

“Americans are moving closer to the day when every American has that peace of mind,” Obama said. “Once you get out of Washington, most people don't want people not to have coverage … Despite all the years of political fighting, all the repeal votes, and all the apocalyptic predictions, people have a healthcare bridge through their life."

"We're not going backward to a time where people could be denied healthcare based on preexisting conditions," he said. "That's who we were, but not now.”

Harris Meyer

Harris Meyer is a senior reporter providing news and analysis on a broad range of healthcare topics. He served as managing editor of Modern Healthcare from 2013 to 2015. His more than three decades of journalism experience includes freelance reporting for Health Affairs, Kaiser Health News and other publications; law editor at the Daily Business Review in Miami; staff writer at the New Times alternative weekly in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; senior writer at Hospitals & Health Networks; national correspondent at American Medical News; and health unit researcher at WMAQ-TV News in Chicago. A graduate of Northwestern University, Meyer won the 2000 Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism.

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