White House explainer-in-chief Bill Clinton talks Obamacare as rollout nears

Bill Clinton's discussion of Obamacare Wednesday at the Clinton Library in Little Rock kicked off White House plans for a series of speeches on a widely misunderstood and disliked law.

Danny Johnston/AP
Former President Bill Clinton speaks about health care at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Ark., Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. Clinton's speech comes with the Affordable Healthcare Act in final countdown mode, just a few weeks before the scheduled Oct. 1 launch of online health insurance markets in the states.

Dubbed “Secretary of Explaining Stuff” by President Obama last year, former President Bill Clinton Wednesday ran down the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, remarked on its problems, and reminded the law’s sworn enemies – House Republicans among them – that “it is the law.”

The remarks by Mr. Clinton at the Clinton Library in Little Rock, Ark., marked the beginning of what the White House has vowed will be a procession of big-name speeches on a widely misunderstood and disliked law. Despite its being the most massive entitlement expansion since the 1960s, four in 10 Americans believe Obamacare has already been repealed, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

While sections of the 2009 legislation have already taken effect – most significantly extending child benefits to 26-year-olds and barring insurance companies from excluding or raising rates because of preexisting conditions – the unofficial premiere of Obamacare is less than a month away, on Oct. 1. That’s when Americans can begin enrolling in state and federal health-care exchanges, through which low-income applicants will be able to get federally subsidized insurance.

“This law has generated a lot of opposition, as we all know,” Clinton said. “It’s been attacked from the left, believe it or not, for not having a public option and for leaving insurance companies with too large a role, and it’s been attacked from the right for increasing the role of government in health-care delivery. But there are no real alternatives to fix the current system.”

Already, Clinton said, 6.6 million American seniors pay less for prescription drugs under Obamacare, and 105 million Americans have seen limits on insurance coverage abolished. Critics point to a potentially fatal flaw in the law, however. The outlay from the federal government will skyrocket unless a required number of healthy and young Americans enroll instead of pay penalties. Those younger Americans – the bulk of those who currently don’t have insurance – are expected to subsidize care for older, sicker generations.

As with many things Clinton, there was a backdrop of drama around the speech Wednesday. For one, Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, a moderate Democrat under heavy fire for his support of Obamacare, was not present – due to scheduling conflicts, his staff contended.

Hillary Clinton also did not attend the invitation-only speech. Ms. Clinton, who, nursing another presidential campaign, has laid low after stepping aside as Secretary of State. Her presence in the health-care debate could have reminded Americans of her involvement in a failed stab at federalized health care in the 1990s, during the Clinton presidency.

The implementation of Obamacare has loomed large from corporate boardrooms to kitchen tables. While it offers the promise of cheaper and better health care for many Americans, uncertainties about whether rates will actually go up and whether companies will drop employee health-care plans have generated deep-seated anxieties and opened the door for barbed criticism, even outright revolt, from conservatives.

“Let me tell you what we’re doing (about Obamacare),” Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens said to raucous applause from a crowd in Floyd County earlier this month: “Everything in our power to be an obstructionist.”

Saying he strongly supports the state-by-state implementation of Obamacare, Clinton took on such critics directly on Wednesday, suggesting that officials in states that are turning down a Medicaid expansion are “leaving money on the table for other states.”

“I think we should all work together to implement this law, whether we supported its passage or not,” he said. “It’s better than the current system, which is unaffordable and downright unhealthy for millions of Americans.”

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