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Obama defends Obamacare: 'We will make this work'

Tuesday, 3 Dec 2013 | 3:09 PM ET
President Barack Obama speaks on December 3, 2013.
Source: The White House
President Barack Obama speaks on December 3, 2013.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday launched a planned three-week-long push for — and defense of — his embattled health-care reform law, vowing to "make this work"

"We aren't going back," Obama said at the White House speech while flanked by people who officials said had benefited from his Affordable Care Act.

"If I've got fight another three years this law works, that's what I'll do. We're not repealing it, as long as I'm president, I want to be clear about that."

"We will make this work," Obama said.

(Read more: Shhhhhhh! HealthCare,gov's error rate still a big secret)

Obama talks health care
CNBC's John Harwood reports President Obama is speaking to highlight the positives under the Affordable Care Act and is pushing enrollment on exchanges despite issues on the sites.

"We took up the fight because we believe that, in America, nobody should have to worry about going broke just because somebody in their family or they got sick," Obama said.

"We believe that nobody should have to choose between putting food on their kids' table or taking them to see the doctor."

Obama's remarks, just the latest in what have been a series of defenses of his signature legislation, came two days after officials said a weeks-long effort to repair the glitch-ridden federally run insurance marketplace HealthCare.gov had left that website able to smoothly handle applications and enrollments for most users.

The White House plans to highlight benefits of the Affordable Care Act every day until Dec. 23 as part of its effort to spur enrollment on HealthCare.gov and on 15 other Obamacare exchanges being run by individual states and the District of Columbia.

Dec. 23 is the last day that people can enroll in coverage through one of the government-run exchanges and have their insurance begin Jan. 1. Open enrollment, however, continues through March 31, the date by which nearly all Americans are required to have some form of health insurance or face a tax penalty.

The botched Oct. 1 of HealthCare.gov and weeks of subsequent problems people had in even getting on the site, generated a firestorm of criticism of the Obama Administration's handling of the rollout, and renewed calls by Republicans to repeal or dramatically change the rules of Obamacare.

Stories about people having their individual insurance policies cancelled because they didn't comply with new Affordable Care Act rules added heat to that fire.

But Obama said, "the bottom line is, this law is working, and will work in the future. People want the stability of health insurance. And we're going to keep on working to to fix whatever problems come up."

"We also know . . .that after just the first month, despite all the problems in the rollout, about half a million people across the country are poised to gain health-care coverage through the marketplaces and Medicaid beginning on Jan. 1, some for the very first time," he said. "And that number is increasing every day, and it is going to keep growing and growing and growing because we know that there are 41 million people out there without health insurance."

Obama said the law's benefits include guaranteed coverage by insurers, who now are barred from discriminating against patients with pre-existing conditions, letting people stay on their parents' insurance until they turn 26, cash reimbursement for millions of people whose insurers' overhead costs go above set limits, and a slowing of the rate of health-care cost inflation.

Obama in Tuesday's speech also accused the Republicans of offering criticisms without having any serious proposals for reforming the health insurance system.

(Read more: Oregon's awful Obamacare numbers)

"if you ask many opponents of this law what exactly they'd do differently, their answer seems to be, well, let's go back to the way things used to be," the president said.

"Just the other day, the Republican leader in the Senate [Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky] was asked what benefits people without health care might see from this law, and he refused to answer even though there are dozens in this room and tens of thousands in his own state who are already on track to benefit from it. He just repeated 'repeal, repeal, repeal,' over and over and over again."

Obama added, "You can't just say the system was working with 41 million people who didn't have health insurance."

But, the president said, "Our poor execution in the first few months on the website clouded the millions of people who stood to benefit" from implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

"We need to make sure that folks refocus on what's at stake here," Obama said.

McConnell, in a statement issued Tuesday, said, "Another campaign-style even won't solve the myriad problems facing consumers under Obamacare."

"The American people have been learning about the impact Obamacare will have on individuals and families in the form of higher premiums, disrupted insurance and lost jobs — more broken promises from the administration," McConnell said.

"And they're becoming increasingly aware of the fact that Obamacare is broken beyond repair. The only fix is full repeal followed by step-by-step, patient-centered reforms that drive down costs and that Americans actually want."

But Dr. Sam Weir, a physician cited by Obama in his speech for his support of the Affordable Care Act, told CNBC.com that "many of my patients are looking forward to getting coverage."

"From where I sit, anything that expands coverage of people who have to make choices about what medicines to take because they can't afford them, or they end up in the emergency room because haven't gotten the preventative care they need, those are important steps in terms of health care policy," said Weir, medical director of family medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

Weir had emailed the White House to voice support of the Affordable Care Act after checking out plan prices on HealthCare.gov for North Carolina residents, and being "just really struck by what a change this presents for the population that I take care of." He said about 11 percent of his facility's patients lack insurance now.

"My patients and patients all around the country are going to be able to get the services they need," Weir said.

Asked about Obamacare's many critics, Weir said, "I think that for some folks in the political arena, if the president said the sky was blue, they'd be opposed to that notion."

By CNBC's Dan Mangan. Follow him on Twitter @_DanMangan

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