Why did Bill Clinton call Obamacare 'crazy'?

The Clintons and the Obama administration walked back former President Bill Clinton's comments, as Donald Trump seized the opportunity to criticize the Affordable Care Act Tuesday.

Jake May/The Flint Journal/AP
Former President Bill Clinton reaches out to shake someone's hand as he stays late to greet as many area residents as he can after speaking to nearly 500 people on Monday, Oct. 3, 2016 at Northbank Center in downtown Flint, Mich. Clinton is campaigning for his wife, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, in Michigan.

The day after former President Bill Clinton uttered on the stump that Obamacare is "the craziest thing in the world," the Obama administration and the Clintons tried to soften his criticism of President Obama’s signature legislative achievement.

Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, defended the Affordable Care Act in a news briefing Tuesday. Mr. Clinton and Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign praised the Affordable Care Act but said more must be done to expand access to insurance.

While the comments showed Mr. Clinton can be as much of a wild card on the campaign trail as an attraction, the blowback afterward has given the Obama administration and the Clinton campaign an opportunity to talk about what works with Obamacare and what doesn't.

"President Obama has of course acknowledged that, with cooperation from Democrats and Republicans in Congress, there are some things that could be done to further strengthen the law," said Mr. Earnest in the news briefing. "That's something that Secretary [Hillary] Clinton has vowed to pursue if she is elected president of the United States, and President Obama is certainly going to do everything he can to support that effort."

Mr. Clinton started the media firestorm at a rally in Flint, Mich., on Monday, speaking about how insurance premiums have risen under the Affordable Care Act.

"You've got this crazy system where all of a sudden 25 million more people have health care and then the people are out there busting it sometimes 60 hours a week wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half," he said.

"Figure out an affordable rate, and let people use that, something that won't undermine your quality of life, won't interfere with your ability to make expenses, won't interfere with your ability to save money for your kids' college education and let people buy in to Medicare," he continued, according to a transcript by Reuters.

After the rally, his aides and the Clinton campaign walked back the former president's comments, saying Mr. Clinton is a supporter of Obamacare, but wants to address lingering gaps in the insurance markets.

But Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, seized on the opportunity at a rally in Arizona.

"President Bill Clinton came out and told the truth about Obamacare," said Mr. Trump, thanking the former president for being "honest."

When asked about Clinton's comments at the White House news briefing Tuesday, Earnest said "it's not exactly clear to me what argument he was making, and so I'll let him and his team explain that."

But he added the Obama remains "proud" of the Affordable Care Act.

"The American people benefit from the way the law has been implemented in terms of expanding coverage, in terms of limiting the growth in health care costs, but also in terms of the many consumer protections that people who already had health insurance in the past now benefit from," said Earnest, according to ABC News.

Angel Urena, Mr. Clinton's press secretary, acknowledged the former president was "slightly short-handed," but it's clear to everyone improvement is needed.

"That's why Secretary Clinton has proposed measures including tax relief to cover excessive out-of-pocket costs, a public option and Medicare buy-in for those over 55. She'll build on the progress we’ve made by increasing competition, choice, affordability and the number of Americans with insurance," said Mr. Urena.

Mrs. Clinton, who was stymied by Congress trying create affordable healthcare in the 1990s, said the Republicans who control Congress now want to repeal the Affordable Care Act altogether, which has made it impossible for Obama to attempt changes in the law, since any changes require willing partners on Capitol Hill.

That's why, she said Tuesday, she'd "fix what's broken and keep what works." 

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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