Health and Science

Obama touts health law as Supreme Court decision looms

President Barack Obama on Tuesday said the Affordable Care Act is now "woven" into the fabric of American life, and that opponents of the landmark health law are "deeply cynical" in wanting to reverse it and "take care away from millions of people."

His speech came as the Supreme Court is considering a case that represents possibly the greatest remaining threat to the ACA, short of a new president and Congress coming into office and revoking it altogether.

"After a century of talk, after decades of trying, after a year of sustained debate, we finally made affordable health care here in America a reality," Obama said during an address to the Catholic Health Association conference in Washington, D.C. (Tweet this)

President Barack Obama
Gary Cameron | Reuters

Before his speech touting the benefits of the law commonly known as Obamacare, the White House released an online timeline of efforts to expand health coverage in the United States.

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The president described how difficult it had been to overcome the political roadblocks toward implementing a health-care reform law, but how it became imperative due to ever-increasing medical costs and the financial and emotions burdens they placed on the uninsured, and on those whose insurance was insufficient.

He argued that the ACA represented a long-standing American belief that people are responsible for helping out their fellow citizens when they need it.

The ACA is "serving so many more people so much better," Obama said, pointing to the "tally of pain and tragedy and bankruptcies that have been averted" by the law.

"And we're not going backward," he vowed.

Obama didn't mention the pending Supreme Court case, known as King v. Burwell. But his touting of the ACA's benefits and arguments for how entrenched it now is were an implicit reminder of the court's looming decision.

Plaintiffs in that case have asked the high court to rule that financial aid given to customers of the federal Obamacare exchange is illegal.

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Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, is one of the intellectual architects of that argument. On Tuesday, before Obama spoke, Cannon wrote that the "supposed successes" of Obamacare "are not due to the ACA."

"They are the product, two federal courts have found, of billions of dollars of illegal taxes, borrowing, and spending imposed by the IRS at the behest of the president's political appointees," he wrote on the group's blog.

"The president can pound the table all he wants about his theories of what Congress intended, or how, in his opinion, those illegal taxes have benefited America. No speech can change the fact that he signed into law a health care bill that makes it unmistakably clear that those taxes and subsidies are only available 'through an Exchange established by the State.' If he didn't like that part of the bill, he shouldn't have signed it."

Obama: Health care exchanges should not be overturned
Obama: Health care exchanges should not be overturned

About 6.4 million people currently receive such subsidies to offset the cost of their insurance in 34 states served by that exchange. Analysts have predicted that if those subsidies are removed, up to 10 million people in those states would lose health coverage by 2016, and individual health insurance premiums would skyrocket.

Underscoring that threat, Obama noted how the ACA has been followed by a sharp reduction in the number of Americans without health insurance, "driving the uninsured rate to its lowest level ever."

About 16 million previously uninsured people—1 out of every 3—have gotten covered as a result of Obamacare.

Obama also noted how the ACA has barred insurers from denying coverage or charging higher prices for people with existing health conditions, how the law mandates that insurers cover a slew of medical services without out-of-pocket payments from customers and how women are no longer forced to pay more for their insurance than men.

"Tens of millions of people enjoy new protections with the coverage they have," he said. "They might not know they have a better deal now, but they do."

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He added that Medicare has been "strengthened and protected," and said the average insurance premiums paid by families are now $1,800 lower than they would have been without the ACA.

The president also cited examples of people who had benefited from Obamacare, such as a Texas family whose previously mute son was now able to speak the words "I love you" to his parents, and a Pennsylvania woman who had been wheelchair-bound and in "constant pain" for years due to untreated osteoporosis.

That woman had sent him a letter describing how she underwent knee replacement surgery after getting insurance.

"She's back on her feet, she walks her dog, she's cooking, exercising," Obama said.

"Is there any greater measure of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness than in those simple pleasures that are afforded because you have good health and you have some security?" Obama asked.

The president scoffed at the "gloom and doom predictions" that Obamacare opponents made before the ACA was passed into law.

"We were told again and again that Obamacare would be a job killer," Obama said, adding that people "amazingly" still make that argument.

But in reality, he said, "America has experienced 63 straight months of job growth ... which started the month we passed the Affordable Care Act."

He added, referring to opponents who call for the repeal of the ACA, that, "It seems so cynical to want to take away care from millions of people ... to punish millions with higher costs of care."