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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Five days before the launch of the Affordable Care Act’s online health care marketplaces, President Barack Obama delivered an impassioned speech to a Prince George’s County, Maryland crowd to once again sell his signature legislative achievement.

“If you’re one of over 40 million Americans without health insurance,” the president said, “starting on Tuesday you’ll have the same chance to buy quality, affordable health care the same as everybody else.”

The speech was a three-pronged effort to explain the pieces of the legislation that have already been rolled out; to defend the rest of the law that is set to take effect; and to deride detractors, who have gone to great lengths to hamstring its implementation since it was passed.

Speaking at a community college, the president struck a sympathetic note to explain the need for an Affordable Care Act. “In the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one should go broke just because they get sick,” he exclaimed, adding, “In the USA health care is not a privilege for the fortunate few, it is a right.”

Obama then pointed to popular parts of the legislation that have already been implemented, noting that Americans who already have health insurance now benefit from free preventive care like mammograms and contraceptive care. He also talked about the “three million young adults under the age of 26” who remain covered under their parents’ health plan, saying that “tens of millions of Americans are already better off.”

The president moved on to a fervent defense of the pieces of the law that will soon be implemented, reminding the crowd that on October 1, uninsured Americans will have the opportunity to search a government website to find the “insurance marketplace” for individual states. On the website, Obama continued, health insurance seekers will be able to compare prices and purchase plans. “This is a lot easier, it’s like booking a hotel or a plane ticket,” he said.

Furthermore, Americans who have pre-existing conditions — like asthma, for example — will no longer have to pay a larger insurance premium. The law will stop insurance companies from denying care to Americans who are mentally ill, according to the president.

The economics of the bill, said President Obama, also make sense. For starters, “95 percent of uninsured Americans will see their premiums cost less than expected…If you’re a 25-year-old making $25,000 a year, you could end up getting covered for as low as $80 a month.” He then asserted that private insurance companies — not the federal government — proposed these low prices because they want to take advantage of more people seeking insurance.

Nevertheless, the law has extremely passionate critics. In Congress, there is a new push by House Republicans to use a debt limit vote to blackmail the president into gutting the Affordable Care Act. Obama offered a strong rebuke to House Republicans for even threatening this, warning, “This is the United States of America. We’re not a deadbeat nation. We don’t not pay our note. We are the world’s bedrock economy….You don’t mess with that. That’s why I will not negotiate on anything when it comes to the full faith and credit of the United States of America.”

Obama also mocked the exaggerated criticisms that Republican politicians have lodged against the Affordable Care Act. “Republicans’ biggest fear at this point is not that the Affordable Care Act is going to fail,” he said. “What they’re worried about is it is going to succeed,” adding, “They have made such a big political issue out of this…with lies about death panels, killing granny…so, if it actually works, they’ll look pretty bad.”

Aside from trying to tie the law to a government shutdown or debt default, magnifying the complications involved in the implementation of the law has been the GOP’s primary strategy to derail the Affordable Care Act. In July, the Obama administration decided to delay the requirement that employers with 50 or more employees provide insurance to those employees or face a penalty. And it was just revealed that small businesses will not be able to enroll online in the new health insurance markets when the website goes live on October 1.

But delays of certain aspects of the law are nothing to worry about, according to the White House. Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services Committee Secretary, for one, doesn’t believe the one-month delay for small businesses is noteworthy. The months before January 1 — when plans kick in — were always seen as  “lead-in time to get ready to get coverage,” she told MSNBC’s Alex Wagner on Thursday.

AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan

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