President Obama says his signature health care law "is working and will work into the future."
(Photo: Carolyn Kaster, AP)
WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) - After spending much of the past two months on the defensive as a result of the rocky rollout of his health care law, President Obama began a pre-holiday campaign Tuesday to boost enrollment now that the troubled online health exchange has been largely repaired.
The White House, the Democratic National Committee and the pro-Obama political group Organizing for Action say they will spend the next few weeks highlighting how Americans benefit under the law. Consumers must be enrolled in a health care plan by Dec. 23 to be on the insurers' rolls Jan. 1.
In a speech to mark the beginning of the effort, Obama took aim at Republican lawmakers who have repeatedly called for repeal of the law and have attempted to use the troubled implementation to take shots at several vulnerable Democratic lawmakers up for re-election in 2014 who supported the Affordable Care Act.
"We're not repealing it as long as I'm president," said Obama, who was flanked by Americans who have benefited from aspects of the law. He said, "If I have to fight another three years to make sure that this law works, then that's what I'll do."
The publicity blitz for Obamacare comes after the administration claimed victory in achieving its goal of getting the glitch-riddled HealthCare.gov website working for the vast majority of Americans by Nov. 30. Consumers are still experiencing some delays on the site, but the White House said there were more than 1 million visitors to the site Monday.
Though the administration can claim it has made huge strides improving the website - which serves as the online exchange for 36 states that refused to create their own exchanges - Obama is not out of the woods.
Some of the enrollment data insurers received from Americans who have signed up through the health care exchange contain errors - meaning some consumers might not be able to access the benefits Jan. 1 when they're scheduled to go into effect.
Republicans seized on a report released Tuesday by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration that found that "critical" pieces in security controls failed during testing and that the Internal Revenue Service's fraud detection system may not be capable of identifying ACA refund fraud.
The report was completed more than two months ago, and the IRS noted in a response that it has taken steps to bolster its fraud detection.
"The president's health care law continues to wreak havoc on American families, small businesses and our economy," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said before Obama spoke. "And it's not just a broken website."
After the improvements to the website, the White House is set to resume stating its case to the public that it is working to meet a huge demand from Americans for affordable health care.
Obama said he hopes to focus attention back on the benefits of the law - something he said has been lost with all the attention on the website's problems.
As a result of the law, the president said, Americans are benefiting from bans on insurers setting lifetime benefit limits. He said 7 million seniors and Americans with disabilities have saved $1,200 on prescription drug costs and 9.5 million families have received refunds from their insurers.
"What's important for everybody to remember is not only has the law helped millions of people, but there are millions more that stand to be helped," Obama said. "And we got to make sure they know that."
Several polls have shown that a majority of Americans disapprove of the law, but a majority are opposed to a total repeal.
Boehner criticized Obama as being out of touch with what Americans want, but he declined to commit to vote on replacing the president's health care law next year with a Republican plan.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., dismissed the president's effort to trumpet the law. The senator's office noted that the latest effort marks at least the 13th attempt at a public relations blitz for the law since 2009.
"Another campaign-style event won't solve the myriad problems facing consumers under Obamacare," McConnell said before Obama's speech.
Obama charged that McConnell and fellow Republicans are disingenuous for repeatedly calling for repeal but not offering a viable alternative for helping Americans without insurance.
"If, despite all the millions of people benefiting from it, you still think this law is a bad idea, you got to tell us specifically what you'd do ... to make insurance more secure," Obama said. ""You can't just say the system was working with 41 million without health insurance."