Donald Trump blasts Obamacare — with a lot of help from running mate Mike Pence

Republican vice presidential candidate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence addresses a campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio.
Jay Laprete | AFP | Getty Images

Mike Pence brought the fire on Obamacare — and then Donald Trump showed up out to fan the flames, at least a little bit.

On the first day of open enrollment in Obamacare plans, the Republican presidential campaign chose to have its vice presidential nominee — not its presidential one — lead the charge with a scathing speech in Pennsylvania decrying the Affordable Care Act, big premium hikes for plans next year and a shrinking number of insurers selling coverage on health marketplaces.

Indiana governor and vice presidential contender Pence laid out, in enthusiastic detail, how Trump proposed to replace Obamacare after repealing it "lock, stock and barrel."

"Obamacare is failing," Pence said Tuesday. "The case has never been stronger for repeal."

"Obamacare is a catastrophic failure," he said. "Hillary Clinton wants to double down on that failure.

Trump then came on stage to echo Pence's remarks on Obamacare. But he spent markedly less time on the subject. And his comments on the ACA were read stiffly, in a subdued manner, from a teleprompter.

"Obamacare has to be replaced, and we will do it, and we will do it very quickly," Trump said. "Insurers are leaving, premiums are soaring, doctors are quitting, companies are fleeing."

"Obamacare means higher prices, fewer choices and lower quality ... Hillary Clinton wants to expand Obamacare," Trump said.

The decision to have Trump play second fiddle to his running mate on Obamacare came a week after the real estate mogul botched remarks on the ACA in which he said his workers were suffering from the health-care reform law.

Trump quickly backtracked from that claim, saying that most of his workers received health coverage from his company, as required under the ACA — and not from buying individual health plans on Obamacare exchanges, where premiums are rising sharply.

On Tuesday, Pence gave the broadest indictment of the law, taking advantage of the fact that millions of people starting Tuesday will be confronted with individual health plans that will cost many of them much more in 2017 than they did this year.

Referring to "the so-called Affordable Care Act," Pence noted that the Obama administration last week had revealed that the average price of closely watched benchmark "silver" plans on government marketplaces are going up a steep 25 percent next year.

And in a number of states, he added, Obamacare prices are increasing much more than that: 116 percent in Arizona, 69 percent in Oklahoma and 53 percent in Pennsylvania, the state where Pence was speaking.

"Our paychecks haven't gone up by that amount," Pence said.

The Obama administration has repeatedly noted that most customers on government marketplaces qualify for financial aid that can greatly reduce their premiums.

But Pence pointed out the "heartbreaking" fact that in Pennsylvania alone there are "almost 110,000 households who will see their rates spike dramatically with absolutely no" Obamacare subsidies to cut their premium costs.

Pence also highlighted the fact that Obamacare plan deductibles tend to be high, particularly for bronze plans, which have the lowest premiums but whose average deductible for a family is more than $12,000 per year.

"What good is a health plan if you can't afford to use it?" he asked.

And he noted that in many areas of Pennsylvania, as for about 20 percent of Obamacare consumers, they will have only one insurer to select a plan from during open enrollment.

Pence said that in addition to Obamacare being "a crushing weight on the American people ... it's also a crushing weight on the American economy."

He said the ACA's employer mandate, which requires larger employers to offer health coverage to full-time workers or pay a fine, has "reduced employment by more than 350,000 jobs nationally" — a claim that is widely disputed.

"Obamacare is killing jobs, and it's destroying small-business growth across the United States," Pence said.

He repeatedly tied what he called the failures of Obamacare to Democratic presidential nominee Clinton, a supporter of the ACA who has said she wants to improve on the law if she wins the White House.

"We can't trust Hillary Clinton with our health care any more than we can trust her with classified information," Pence said.

He also noted that in a 2015 speech in Canada she said that "she wants to get universal health-care coverage" to Americans, as Canadians have.

Pence then said, scornfully, "We don't want the socialized health care they have in Canada. We want American solutions."

Pence said those solutions, in a Trump administration, would be expanding tax-advantage health savings accounts so that Americans could save for their medical needs, allowing for sales of health insurance plans across state lines and block-granting federal Medicaid funds to states so they could decided how to run that health coverage program for the poor as they saw fit.

"Health-care providers are going to be more responsible when they answer to their patients needs in a competitive marketplace," he said.

"The Trump health-care plan will help make health care more affordable," Pence said. "We'll get rid of the individual mandate because government shouldn't be telling people how to spend money." That Obamacare mandate currently requires most Americans to have some form of health coverage or pay a fine.

Pence added that Trump's health plan also will bar insurers from denying coverage or charging higher rates to people with pre-existing health conditions, as long as a consumer maintained their insurance coverage without interruption.

"We can make America great again, we can make health care in America great again, but it's going to take all of us to do it."

In contrast to Trump's remarks after his speech, Pence spent most of his time speaking about Obamacare.

Trump, on the other hand, opened up with remarks on the health law, but then soon moved on to other topics.