Former President Barack Obama mocked Republicans in a speech on Wednesday for repeated efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, his signature health care law also known as Obamacare.
“The legislation that we passed was full of things that still needed to be fixed,” Obama said at an event hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in New York City.
“It wasn’t perfect, but it was better,” he continued. “And when I see people trying to undo that progress for the 50th or 60th time with bills that would raise costs or reduce coverage or roll back protections for older Americans or people with preexisting conditions — the cancer survivor, the expecting mom or the child with autism or asthma, for whom coverage would once again be unattainable — it is aggravating.”
GOP leaders on Capitol Hill made repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act the No. 1 priority following President Trump’s inauguration. But efforts to do so have thus far failed to gather enough Republican support.
The latest legislative push — the so-called Cassidy-Graham bill — would devolve Medicaid and Obamacare subsidy spending to individual states, leading to big cuts for some blue states like Massachusetts while boosting red states that did not expand Medicaid under Obamacare. It also repeals Obamacare’s individual and employer mandates.
According to an analysis by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Cassidy-Graham bill “would cause many millions of people to lose coverage, radically restructure and deeply cut Medicaid, eliminate or weaken protections for people with preexisting conditions, and increase out-of-pocket costs for individual market consumers.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to consider the plan next week on the Senate floor.
“All of this being done without any demonstrable economic or actuarial or plain common sense rationale, it frustrates,” Obama said. “It’s certainly frustrating to have to mobilize every couple of months to keep our leaders from inflicting real human suffering on our constituents.”
Obama said Wednesday that the people who worked on drafting the Affordable Care Act weren’t just politicians and “policy wonks” but parents “who had the experience of a sick child or crushing medical bills that threatened to bankrupt them.”
“And for the first time, more than 90 percent of Americans know the security of health insurance,” he said. “Paying more for insurance or being denied insurance because of a preexisting condition or because you are a woman, that’s not a thing anymore. We got rid of that and people are alive today because of it, and that’s progress.”
The former president wondered aloud how Obamacare became so controversial.
“Those of you who live in countries that already have universal health care are trying to figure out what’s the controversy here,” he said. “I am too.”
But Obama said that pushing back against efforts to roll back progressive legislation is “typically how progress is won.”
“On every issue we have to stand up for each other, recognize that progress is never inevitable — that it can be fragile and is in need of constant renewal,” he said. “Our collective progress depends on our willingness to roll up our sleeves and work.”
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