Standing in Boston's Faneuil Hall, President Obama called on Americans to have confidence in the long-term prospects of Obamacare. Referring to the 2006 passage of health care reform in Massachusetts, signed in that same building, the president asked, however indirectly, for patience. "It's easy to scare folks" about health care, he said, but the law would eventually work.
Patience has been the watchword over the month-old roll-out of Obamacare's insurance exchanges, although not in the way the president might hope. Visitors to the bug-laden Healthcare.gov website quickly ran out of patience in their attempts to register for coverage under the system. Those errors were quickly picked up by the president's Republican opponents as evidence that the policy was similarly flawed.
Obama had a response: "If they put as much energy into making this law work as they do in attacking the law, Americans would be better off." As he closed, he promised that Obamacare would survive. "We will see this through."
During his speech, Obama noted that the worst predictions of the effects of health care reform in Massachusetts — critiques that echo those now coming from the GOP — didn't come true. "Businesses didn't stop covering work workers. The share of employers who offered insurance increased. People did not get left behind."
As we noted earlier, Obama's explicit reference to the launch of Massachusetts' health system wasn't appreciated by that policy's champion, Mitt Romney. But Obama hailed Romney's role in expanding coverage, regardless. "Mitt Romney and I ran a long and spirited campaign against one another," Obama said, "but I've always believed that when he was governor here in Massachusetts, he did it the right thing on health care."
Obama: enrollment was "extremely slow" in Massachusetts initially. True! pic.twitter.com/SmvHh0GZOm— igorvolsky (@igorvolsky) October 30, 2013
Though it wasn't flawless, Obama pointed out. Massachusetts' rollout suffered from similarly slow enrollment.
Enrollment was extremely slow. Within a month, only about 100 people had signed up. 100. But then 2000 had signed up. And then a few more thousand after that. And by the end of the year, 36,000 people had signed up.
That, he suggested, was the path Obamacare was on. He noted that a large number of uninsured people had already been covered in states that chose to expand federal Medicaid coverage, including red states Kentucky and Arkansas.
Obama also responded to attacks that he'd broken his promise that people could keep coverage they liked. (We've written about this before.) His argument: "One of the things health reform was designed to do was to help the uninsured — but also the underinsured."
Before the Affordable Care Act, these "bad apple" insurers had free rein every single year to limit the care you received or jack up your premiums or bill you into bankruptcy. A lot of people thought they were buying coverage — but it turned out to be not so good.
Establishing minimum requirements meant that some people lost coverage that didn't meet the law's standard. "Health care," he said, "is complicated and very personal. It's easy to scare folks. And it's no surprise that some of the same folks trying to scare people now are the same folks who have been trying to sink the Affordable Care Act from the beginning."
The president was introduced by Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, a long-time Obama ally, who offered his support for the president's push. People should recognize, he said, that Obamacare is "not a website, it's a values statement." Shortly after Obama's speech began, protestors interrupted him, demanding that he reject the Keystone XL pipeline. "This is the wrong rally," the president responded. "The climate change rally was in the summer!"
Of course, the president couldn't be in Boston on Wednesday without mentioning the Red Sox game. "I understand that a presidential visit is not the biggest thing going on today in Boston," he said. "I understand that. I tried growing a beard, but Michelle wasn't having it."