Fresh off winning a high-court declaration that his administration can expand the Affordable Care Act beyond the express wording of the law, President Obama stopped off in Nashville to tout the controversial initiative.
“There are a whole host of things that fall under the Affordable Care Act that are benefitting 100 million, 150 million people,” Obama told a crowd of supporters at Taylor Stratton Elementary School. “They just may not be aware of it. But what it’s done is it’s made health care stronger, more secure, and more reliable in America.”
“The good news is that, contrary to some of the expectations, not only has the law worked better than we expected, not only are 16 million people now getting health insurance that didn’t have it before, not only do we now have the lowest uninsured rate since we started tracking people and how much health insurance they had, but it’s actually ended up costing less than people expected,” the president said.
“And health care costs have been held — the inflation on health care costs have actually proved to be the lowest — since the Affordable Care Act passed — in the last 50 years. So we’re actually seeing less health care inflation,” he added.
Topping the president’s agenda, in addition to talking up the 2010 health reform package, was to press for the state to expand government-financed health care coverage for lower income Tennesseans.
“I think because of politics, not all states have taken advantage of the options that are out there,” he said. “Our hope is that more of them do.”
The Volunteer State was one of 22 states that have refused to grow their Medicaid populations after a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision declared that the administration and the Democratically controlled Congress that passed Obamacare had unconstitutionally attempted to coerce states into increasing the number of people receiving taxpayer-funded coverage.
Twice in the last six months, Republicans in the Legislature have rebuffed attempts by Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to expand Medicaid, dubbed “Insure Tennessee,” which he claims “won’t cost the state a dime.”
GOP leaders like Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Blountville and House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville have expressed an unwillingness to give Insure Tennessee further consideration until after the 2016 election, when they hope a Republican president is elected who will give the states greater latitude to run their own Medicaid programs.
Obama was asked about Insure Tennessee by several in the audience.
One of those was state Rep. Brenda Gilmore, a Nashville Democrat, who solicited advice from the president for how to encourage Gov. Haslam, who did not attend the event, “to stay on the journey and to continue to find solutions to present Insure Tennessee and to bring some of our colleagues over on the other side so that we can take the politics out of it and help them to understand how important this is to the quality of life for Tennesseans.”
The president noted that each state finds itself in a unique situation with respect to political dynamics, and suggested tactical plotting is best be left to homegrown “experts” like Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville.
“But here’s the one thing I do know, is that elected officials respond to public opinion,” said Obama. He added, “If ordinary folks feel it’s important, then usually elected officials start responding.”
The president, who managed to speak for more than an hour without taking any critical questioning in a state where his popularity tends to be dismal, said “one of the challenges that we’ve had throughout this fight has been that there’s been a lot of misinformation out there.”
Obama also needled conservatives for, in his estimation, seemingly having reversed themselves into opposing ACA-style policies they once endorsed, like forcing people by law to purchase subsidized health coverage.
“People tend to forget that the Affordable Care Act model, with health care exchanges and buying on the — in the marketplace, and getting subsidies from the federal government — that was originally a model that was embraced by Republicans before I embraced it,” said Obama. “It’s the model that Mitt Romney signed into law in Massachusetts. It’s the model that conservative organizations like Heritage Foundation thought were a good idea.”
The president also defended the so-called “individual mandate,” saying that the ACA’s prohibition against insurance companies rejecting coverage applicants on the basis of their having preexisting medical conditions demands a corollary governmental decree that everyone purchase health insurance.
“If somebody tells you we’re going to prohibit insurance companies from barring you from getting health insurance if you’ve got a preexisting condition, which is popular, but we’re going to allow people not to get health insurance if they don’t feel like it, then the truth is that doesn’t work,” Obama said. “And the reason it doesn’t work is, if you think about it, if you knew that the insurance company couldn’t prevent you from getting health insurance once you were sick, you wouldn’t pay all those premiums until you got sick. And then you’d go to your health insurance company and say, there’s a law you got to sell me health insurance — and you’d save a whole lot of money, but, of course, the whole insurance system would collapse — it wouldn’t work.”