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Obama Vows to Make Health Law Work

Obama Vows to Make Health Law Work

By Alexis Simendinger - December 3, 2013

President Obama on Tuesday said he'd learned the hard way not to deliver sweeping assurances about some aspects of the Affordable Care Act -- chiefly the HealthCare.gov website -- but noted there is one vow he can confidently make.

“If I've got to fight another three years to make sure this law works, then that's what I'll do,” he told a White House audience that stood to applaud. “That's what we'll do.”

Surrounded on the stage by 12 women and seven men who sought new insurance under the 2010 law, the president admitted that over-promising and under-delivering had undercut the administration’s boasts about the ACA’s benefits, which will continue to be implemented on Jan. 1 and beyond.

“Our poor execution in the first couple months on the website clouded the fact that there are a whole bunch of people who stand to benefit,” Obama said. “Now that the website's working for the vast majority of people, we need to make sure that folks refocus on what's at stake here.”

Beginning Monday night, the White House went to some lengths to pitch Tuesday’s event as an intensive effort to encourage Americans to sign up for private insurance through the state-based marketplaces by Dec. 23 if they want to gain new coverage at the start of 2014.

After eight weeks of relentless media and GOP pounding over the troubled federal website, the administration now feels confident that online visitors can successfully enroll in insurance plans in greater numbers despite tight deadlines.

“We've learned not to make wild promises about how perfectly smooth it's going to be at all times,” Obama told a sympathetic audience seated in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. “But if you really want health insurance through the marketplaces, you're going to be able to get on and find the information that you need for your families at HealthCare.gov.

“So, if you’ve already got health insurance or you've already taken advantage of the Affordable Care Act, you got to tell your friends, you got to tell your family, tell your co-workers, tell your neighbors,” he continued. “Let's help our fellow Americans get covered. Let's give every American a fighting chance in today's economy.”

The president repeated many of his favorite messages about the law’s provisions, citing the benefits Americans have experienced already, and say they like, according to public opinion polls: Young people can stay on their parents’ insurance plans until they are 26; more than 7 million senior citizens and Americans with disabilities have saved an average of $1,200 on their prescription medicines; 8.5 million families received average refunds of $100 from their insurance companies; and nationally, health care costs are rising at the slowest pace in five decades.

“My main message today is we’re not going back,” he added.

Obama took personal aim at Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky for his repeated criticisms of the health law.

“Just the other day the Republican leader in the Senate was asked what benefits people without health care might see from this law, and he refused to answer even though there are dozens in this room and tens of thousands in his own state who are already on track to benefit from it,” the president said, gazing at his audience and speaking without teleprompters.

“He just repeated 'repeal’ over and over and over again. And obviously we've heard that from a lot of folks on that side of the aisle.”

Republican lawmakers and their aides reacted with immediate skepticism to Obama’s public relations re-launch.

“White House musta forgotten to tell House Dems that part of their 'coordinated’ effort would require them to talk about Obamacare, too,” tweeted Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, as part of the messaging campaign launched Tuesday, delivered a speech in Washington making clear that the Affordable Care Act has been a stinging, challenging management and communications problem for months.

“I will say that I have worked on many complicated issues -- the Middle East peace, Iran and budget deals -- and I can tell everybody in this room that reforming the health care system is the single most complicated issue I have faced,” he said. 

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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