In Defense Of Health Care Law, Obama Cites Mass. Success

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President Obama spoke at Faneuil Hall Wednesday about the federal health care law. (Charles Dharapak/AP)
President Obama spoke at Faneuil Hall Wednesday about the federal health care law. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

President Obama's visit to Boston Wednesday was a carefully orchestrated effort to revive momentum for the Affordable Care Act. The president took the stage at Faneuil Hall, the same place where former Gov. Mitt Romney signed the Massachusetts health coverage law in 2006.

Romney was not invited. Instead, Faneuil Hall was packed with hand-picked supporters of Obamacare. The president congratulated those who supported the 2006 law for making Massachusetts the state with the lowest rate of uninsured people in the country.

"And it’s because you guys had a proven model that we built the Affordable Care Act on this template of proven bipartisan success," Obama said. "Your law was the model for the nation’s law."

But rolling out the model nationwide has been rocky. Some governors are refusing to participate. The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to repeal the national law again and again. And the federal website, where Americans are supposed to be able to shop for insurance, is a mess.

"There's no denying it," the president said, "right now the website is too slow. Too many people have gotten stuck and I am not happy about it. And neither are a lot of Americans who need health care. And they're trying to figure out how they can sign up as quickly as possible. So there's no excuse for it. And I take full responsibility for making sure it gets fixed ASAP."

Obama looked to Massachusetts for relief.

He pointed out that few Bay Staters signed up for coverage in the early months, suggesting that if federal website problems are corrected by the time enrollment increases, it won’t be so bad.

But new hurdles keep popping up. The president is under fire for promising on the campaign trail that Americans who had coverage they liked would not have to change. Now Obama is acknowledging that, in fact, many Americans won’t be able to renew very high-deductible plans or other coverage that he called substandard. His answer? Shop around.

"Because of the tax credits that we’re offering and the competition between insurers, most people are going to be able to get better, comprehensive health care plans for the same price, or even cheaper than was projected," he said.

The criticism that the president broke a promise will likely continue, and there will be new problems. Health care is complicated, Obama said, and trying to fix a broken system is difficult.

"It’s hard but it’s worth it. It is the right thing to do and we’re going to move forward," Obama said. "We are going to keep working to improve the law just like you did here in Massachusetts."

But Massachusetts had something the Affordable Care Act does not: unified support. That unity is something many states can't replicate, or at least that's been the perception. Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO Andrew Dreyfus said that perception isn't quite right.

"People underestimate how much political differences there were and how much there still are," Dreyfus said of the Massachusetts law. "Many interests set aside some of their ideological concerns in exchange for the larger good. So the question is, can the nation do that?"


Across the street from Faneuil Hall, Taso Pesirides and his brother recently opened a UBurger franchise. Pesirides hasn’t gotten around to signing up for health insurance, but when he's ready he knows what to do.

"I should be able to get approved through the Mass. Health Connector," said Pesirides, who received insurance through the Connector at his last job.

He is not following the national health care debate but said he is "happy with what’s going on here. They should push forward with it, to give people health coverage. A lot of people don’t have it and that’s not good."

And that’s why President Obama came to Massachusetts. To prove that a guy trying to start a small business can be confident he will be able to sign up for affordable health insurance when he gets around to making the call. It’s a lesson based on experience, experience that Obama hopes Massachusetts will inspire other states to create.

This program aired on October 31, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

Martha Bebinger Twitter Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.




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