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President Obama makes case for health law in Boston

Yawu Miller | 11/6/2013, 11:21 a.m.
President Obama mounts his defense of the Affordable Care Act during an address at Faneuil Hall last week. Photo by Yawu Miller

After Congress passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, it ran a gauntlet of opposition, surviving a Supreme Court challenge and serving as a political football in the 2012 presidential election and this year’s government shutdown.

Most recently, rollout of the national health care law has been plagued by technical setbacks that have stalled traffic on the website designed to connect consumers with health care plans.

With the law, known as Obamacare, under renewed attack from Republicans, President Obama retreated to one of his most reliable Democratic strongholds to make his case in defense of the law.

“Health care reform in this state was a success,” he told a Faneuil Hall audience of health care executives, health care activists and civic leaders when he spoke in Boston last week. “Thirty-six thousand people signed up within a year.”

Despite the Oct. 1 rollout of the website, which consumers can use to find and select health care plans, the Obama administration has registered just a few hundred people for the national health care plan. Obama assured last week’s audience his administration will soon have the website up and running.

“We’re working overtime to improve it every day,” he said. “Every day, more people are signing up. More people are successfully buying their plans than there were two weeks ago.”

While GOP talking heads are shining a spotlight on the Obama administration’s website woes, the president and Gov. Deval Patrick are putting the focus on the virtues of the Affordable Care Act, highlighting the Patient’s Bill of Rights — a set of consumer protections that include measures preventing insurers from discriminating against children with pre-existing conditions and the requirement that most plans cover preventive care.

“Young people can stay on their parents’ plans until they’re 26,” Obama said. “All this is in place now. It’s working now.”

Republicans have been hammering away at the Affordable Care Act since it was signed into law in 2010, with claims the law would increase disparities between black and white health care recipients and bankrupt businesses.

The Obama administration has a ways to go toward meeting its goal of providing health care insurance for everyone in the United States. Currently 15 percent of the population does not have health care.

Obama’s speech, held in the same hall where former Gov. Mitt Romney signed the Massachusetts health care reform legislation into law in 2006, was meant to underscore the success of health care reform here. Currently 97 percent of Massachusetts residents now have health care.

And, as Obama pointed out, opponents of the Massachusetts law used many of the same arguments opponents of the Affordable Care Act are using now.

“By the way, all the worst predictions about health care in Massachusetts never came true,” he said. “They’re the same arguments you’re hearing now.”

Following Obama’s Boston speech, former Mass. Governor and 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney went on the attack, arguing that the Massachusetts health care legislation he signed into law in 2006 should not be imposed on the whole country.

At the same time, Gov. Patrick has been hitting the airwaves in defense of the affordable care act, arguing that “Health care reform is working for the people of Massachusetts and it will work for the people of America.”

Patrick told the gathering at Faneuil Hall that the benefits of health care reform far outweigh the initial difficulties of implementation.

“Health care reform is not a website,” he said. “It’s a values statement.”

In Massachusetts, 97 percent of the population now has health care. Nationally, that figure is 85 percent.

On stage with the president in Faneuil Hall were many of the architects of the Massachusetts law, including representatives of Health Care for All, a Boston-based health advocacy group.

Brian Rossman, research director for HCFA, says he’s confident the national health care law will be a success.

“What we heard was the president’s commitment to fixing problem areas and keeping his eye on the prize of getting everyone covered,” said Rossman, who was among many HCFA staff who attended the speech.