Obama clears it up

As we have noted here several times, the administration has announced what amounts to a one-year delay in the enforcement of the Obamacare employer mandate. The announcement came in an unusual package for such things. It was wrapped in a cotton-candy blog post by Treasury Assistant Secretary Mark Mazur. The post cited no legal authority and delivered something like a royal edict with respect to a law that by its terms goes into effect in January 2014.

Yesterday President Obama held a press conference. The White House text of the press conference is posted here, video here. Working on this post I used the Washington Post transcript posted here.

Ed Henry asked Obama about his authority to suspend the implementation of the employer mandate:

You recently decided on your own to delay a key part of that. And I wonder, if you pick and choose what parts of the law to implement, couldn’t your successor down the road pick and choose whether they’ll implement your law and keep it in place?

In response Obama’s unspooled the blather and the billingsgate in which he always wraps his defense of Obamacare. Here Obama addresses Henry’s question regarding his authority:

We did have the executive authority to do so, and we did so.

Mr. President, thank you for clearing that up. We have been wondering about it.

Here are Obama’s comments about Obamacare in their entirety, including the quote above:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: With respect to health care, I didn’t simply choose to delay this on my own. This was in consultation with businesses all across the country, many of whom are supportive of the Affordable Care Act, but — and who — many of whom, by the way, are already providing health insurance to their employees but were concerned about the operational details of changing their HR operations if they’ve got a lot of employees, which could be costly for them, and them suggesting that there may be easier ways to do this.

Now what’s true, Ed, is that in a normal political environment, it would have been easier for me to simply call up the speaker and say, you know what? This is a tweak that doesn’t go to the essence of the law. It has to do with, for example, are we able to simplify the attestation of employers as to whether they’re already providing health insurance or not. It looks like there may be some better ways to do this. Let’s make a technical change of the law.

That would be the normal thing that I would prefer to do, but we’re not in a normal atmosphere around here when it comes to, quote- unquote, “Obamacare.”

We did have the executive authority to do so, and we did so. But this doesn’t go to the core of implementation.

Let me tell you what is the core of implementation that’s already taken place. As we speak, right now, for the 85 percent of Americans who already have health insurance, they are benefiting from being able to keep their kid on their — on their plan if their kid is 26 or younger. That’s benefiting millions of young people around the country, which is why lack of insurance among young people has actually gone down. That’s in large part attributable to the steps that we’ve taken. You’ve got millions of people who’ve received rebates because part of the Affordable Care Act was to say that if an insurance company isn’t spending 80 percent of your premium on your health care, you get some money back. And lo and behold, people have been getting their money back. It means that folks who’ve been bumping up with lifetime limits on their insurance that leaves them vulnerable — that doesn’t exist. Seniors have been getting discounts on their prescription drugs. That’s happening right now. Free preventive care, mammograms, contraception — that’s happening right now.

I met a young man today on a bill signing I was doing with the student loan bill who came up to me and said, thank you — he was — he couldn’t have been more than 25, 26 years old — thank you; I have cancer; thanks to the Affordable Care Act, working with the California program, I was able to get health care, and I’m now in remission. And so right now people are already benefiting.

Now, what happens on October 1st, in 53 days, is for the remaining 15 percent of the population that doesn’t have health insurance, they’re going to be able to go on a website or call up a call center and sign up for affordable, quality health insurance at a significantly cheaper rate than what they can get right now on the individual market.

And if, even with lower premiums, they still can’t afford it, we’re going to be able to provide them with a tax credit to help them buy it. And between October 1st, end of March, there will be an open enrollment period in which millions of Americans for the first time are going to be able to get affordable health care.

Now, I think the really interesting question is why it is that my friends in the other party have made the idea of preventing these people from getting health care their holy grail. Their number-one priority. The one unifying principle in the Republican Party at the moment is making sure that 30 million people don’t have health care; and presumably, repealing all those benefits I just mentioned — kids staying on their parents’ plan, seniors getting discounts on their prescription drugs, I guess a return to lifetime limits on insurance, people with pre-existing conditions continuing to be blocked from being able to get health insurance.

That’s hard to understand as a — an agenda that is going to strengthen our middle class. At least they used to say, well, we’re going to replace it with something better. There’s not even a pretense now that they’re going to replace it with something better.

Q: (Off mic) –

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The — the — the notion is simply that those 30 million people, or the 150 million who are benefiting from the other aspects of affordable care, will be better off without it. That’s their assertion, not backed by fact, not backed by any evidence.

It’s just become an ideological fixation.

Well, I’ll tell you what — they’re wrong about that. There is no doubt that in implementing the Affordable Care Act — a program of this significance — there are going to be some glitches. No doubt about it. There are going to be things where we say, you know what? We should have thought of that earlier, or this would work a little bit better or this needs an adjustment. That was true of Social Security. That was true of Medicare. That was true of the children’s health insurance program. That was true of the prescription drug program part D that was rolled out by a Republican president and supported by Republicans who are still in the House of Representatives.

That’s true, by the way, of a car company rolling out a new car. It’s true of Apple rolling out the new iPad. So, you know, you will be able to, whenever you want, during the course of the next six months and probably the next year, find occasions where you say, aha, you know what? That could have been done a little bit better, or that thing — they’re kind of making an administrative change. That’s not how it was originally thought this thing was going to work.

Yes, exactly, because our goal is to actually deliver high- quality, affordable health care for people and to reform the system so costs start going down and people start getting a better bang for the buck. And I make no apologies for that.

And let me just make one last point about this. The idea that you would shut down the government unless you prevent 30 million people from getting health care is a bad idea. What you should be thinking about is, how can we advance and improve ways for middle class families to have some security so that if they work hard they can get ahead and their kids can get ahead.

In case your mind was wandering, let me run this by you one more time:

There is no doubt that in implementing the Affordable Care Act — a program of this significance — there are going to be some glitches….That’s true, by the way, of a car company rolling out a new car. It’s true of Apple rolling out the new iPad.

And some people think the guy lacks a sense of humor!

Peter Suderman comments on several of Obama’s points and reminds those of us who might have forgotten of this interesting fact:

[I]t’s not even true that House Republicans refused to pass legislation lifting the employer mandate. Last month, a majority of House Republicans voted for and passed legislation codifying the administration’s delay of the employer mandate, in conjunction with a bill to similarly delay the individual mandate to purchase insurance. A majority of Democrats, meanwhile, voted against both bills. Obama himself threatened to veto both pieces of legislation should they come to his desk.

Suderman also comments on the price of the ticket. This is a point that will be proved in the fullness of time:

Obama also claimed that when the health law opens for enrollment, it will offer individuals who currently do no carry insurance the opportunity to buy plans “at a significantly cheaper rate than what they can get right now on the individual market.” That will likely be the case for some number of older and sicker individuals, but it is certainly not true for everyone who might buy insurance through the exchanges. In many states, younger, healthier individuals will end up either paying a penalty or buying plans that are more expensive than the cheapest plans they can buy on the market today. Obamacare’s defenders sometimes note that, thanks to the law’s benefits rules, plans bought on the exchanges will be more robust than many inexpensive plans are now. For anyone who might be concerned about cost—which, thanks to the mandate requiring people to purchase insurance, could be millions of people—misses the point. More expansive, more expensive coverage is still more expensive.

There’s a joke here somewhere. Is it the joke that 57 percent of voters cite as the joke of Obamacare’s implementation?

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