Update on the Administration of the Affordable Care Act
December 3, 2013
Thanks to Monica, thanks to everybody standing behind me, and thanks for everybody out there who cares deeply about this issue. Monica's story is important because for all the day-to-day fights here in Washington around the Affordable Care Act, it's stories like hers that should remind us why we took on this reform in the first place.
And for too long, few things left working families more vulnerable to the anxieties and insecurities of today's economy than a broken health care system. So we took up the fight because we believe that, in America, nobody should have to worry about going broke just because somebody in their family or they get sick. We believe that nobody should have to choose between putting food on their kids' table or taking them to see a doctor. We believe we're a better country than a country where we allow, every day, 14,000 Americans to lose their health coverage; or where every year, tens of thousands of Americans died because they didn't have health care; or where out-of-pocket costs drove millions of citizens into poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth. We thought we were better than that, and that's why we took this on. (Applause.)
And that's what's gotten lost a little bit over the last couple of months. And our focus, rightly, had to shift towards working 24/7 to fix the website, healthcare.gov, for the new marketplaces where people can buy affordable insurance plans. And today, the website is working well for the vast majority of users. More problems may pop up, as they always do when you're launching something new. And when they do, we'll fix those, too. But what we also know is that after just the first month, despite all the problems in the rollout, about half a million people across the country are poised to gain health care coverage through marketplaces and Medicaid beginning on January 1st -- some for the very first time. We know that -- half a million people. (Applause.) And that number is increasing every day and it is going to keep growing and growing and growing, because we know that there are 41 million people out there without health insurance. And we know there are a whole bunch of folks out there who are underinsured or don't have a good deal. And we know the demand is there and we know that the product on these marketplaces is good and it provides choice and competition for people that allow them, in some cases for the very first time, to have the security that health insurance can provide.
The bottom line is this law is working and will work into the future. People want the financial stability of health insurance. And we're going to keep on working to fix whatever problems come up in any startup, any launch of a project this big that has an impact on one-sixth of our economy, whatever comes up we're going to just fix it because we know that the ultimate goal, the ultimate aim, is to make sure that people have basic security and the foundation for the good health that they need.
Now, we may never satisfy the law's opponents. I think that's fair to say. Some of them are rooting for this law to fail -- that's not my opinion, by the way, they say it pretty explicitly. (Laughter.) Some have already convinced themselves that the law has failed, regardless of the evidence. But I would advise them to check with the people who are here today and the people that they represent all across the country whose lives have been changed for the better by the Affordable Care Act.
The other day I got a letter from Julia Walsh in California. Earlier this year, Julia was diagnosed with leukemia and lymphoma. "I have a lot of things to worry about," she wrote. "But thanks to the [Affordable Care Act], there are lots of things I do not have to worry about, like…whether there will be a lifetime cap on benefits, [or] whether my treatment will bankrupt my family…I can't begin to tell you how much that peace of mind means..." That's what the Affordable Care Act means to Julia. She already had insurance, by the way, but because this law banned lifetime limits on the care you or your family can receive, she's never going to have to choose between providing for her kids or getting herself well -- she can do both.
Sam Weir, a doctor in North Carolina, emailed me the other day. "The coming years will be challenging for all of us in family medicine," he wrote. "But my colleagues and I draw strength from knowing that beginning with the new year the preventive care many of our current patients have been putting off will be covered and the patients we have not yet seen will finally be able to get the care that they have long needed." That's the difference that the Affordable Care Act will make for many of Dr. Weir's patients. Because more than 100 million Americans with insurance have gained access to recommended preventive care like mammograms, or colonoscopies, or flu shots, or contraception to help them stay healthy -- at no out-of-pocket cost. (Applause.)
At the young age of 23, Justine Ula is battling cancer for the second time. And the other day, her mom, Joann, emailed me from Cleveland University Hospital where Justine is undergoing treatment. She told me she stopped by the pharmacy to pick up Justine's medicine. If Justine were uninsured, it would have cost her $4,500. But she is insured -- because the Affordable Care Act has let her and three million other young people like Monica gain coverage by staying on their parents' plan until they're 26. (Applause.) And that means Justine's mom, all she had to cover was the $25 co-pay.
Because of the Affordable Care Act, more than 7 million seniors and Americans with disabilities have saved an average of $1,200 on their prescription medicine. (Applause.) This year alone, 8.5 million families have actually gotten an average of $100 back from their insurance company -- you don't hear that very often -- (laughter) -- because it spent too much on things like overhead, and not enough on their care. And, by the way, health care costs are rising at the slowest rate in 50 years. So we're actually bending the cost of health care overall, which benefits everybody. (Applause.)
So that's what this law means to millions of Americans. And my main message today is: We're not going back. We're not going to betray Monica, or Julia, or Sam, or Justine, or Joann. (Applause.) I mean, that seems to be the only alternative that Obamacare's critics have is, well, let's just go back to the status quo -- because they sure haven't presented an alternative. If you ask many of the opponents of this law what exactly they'd do differently, their answer seems to be, well, let's go back to the way things used to be.
Just the other day, the Republican Leader in the Senate was asked what benefits people without health care might see from this law. And he refused to answer, even though there are dozens in this room and tens of thousands in his own state who are already on track to benefit from it. He just repeated "repeal" over and over and over again. And obviously we've heard that from a lot of folks on that side of the aisle.
Look, I've always said I will work with anybody to implement and improve this law effectively. If you've got good ideas, bring them to me. Let's go. But we're not repealing it as long as I'm President and I want everybody to be clear about that. (Applause.)
We will make it work for all Americans. If you don't like this law -- (applause) -- so, if despite all the millions of people who are benefitting from it, you still think this law is a bad idea then you've got to tell us specifically what you'd do differently to cut costs, cover more people, make insurance more secure. You can't just say that the system was working with 41 million people without health insurance. You can't just say that the system is working when you've got a whole bunch of folks who thought they had decent insurance and then when they got sick, it turned out it wasn't there for them or they were left with tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs that were impossible for them to pay.
Right now, what that law is doing -- (baby talks.) Yes, you agree with me. (Laughter.) Right now, what this law is doing is helping folks and we're just getting started with the exchanges, just getting started with the marketplaces. So we're not going to walk away from it. If I've got to fight another three years to make sure this law works, then that's what I'll do. That's what we'll do. (Applause.)
But what's important for everybody to remember is not only that the law has already helped millions of people but that there are millions more who stand to be helped. And we've got to make sure they know that. And I've said very clearly that our poor execution in the first couple months on the website clouded the fact that there are a whole bunch of people who stand to benefit. Now that the website is working for the vast majority of people, we need to make sure that folks refocus on what's at stake here, which is the capacity for you or your families to be able to have the security of decent health insurance at a reasonable cost through choice and competition on this marketplace and tax credits that you may be eligible for that can save you hundreds of dollars in premium costs every month, potentially.
So we just need people to -- now that we are getting the technology fixed -- we need you to go back, take a look at what's actually going on, because it can make a difference in your lives and the lives of your families. And maybe it won't make a difference right now if you're feeling healthy, but I promise you, if somebody in your family -- heaven forbid -- gets sick, you'll see the difference. And it will make all the difference for you and your families.
So I'm going to need some help in spreading the word -- I'm going to need some help in spreading the word. I need you to spread the word about the law, about its benefits, about its protections, about how folks can sign up. Tell your friends. Tell your family. Do not let the initial problems with the website discourage you because it's working better now and it's just going to keep on working better over time. Every day I check to make sure that it's working better. (Laughter.) And we've learned not to make wild promises about how perfectly smooth it's going to be at all time, but if you really want health insurance through the marketplaces, you're going to be able to get on and find the information that you need for your families at healthcare.gov.
So if you've already got health insurance or you've already taken advantage of the Affordable Care Act, you've got to tell your friends, you've got to tell your family. Tell your coworkers. Tell your neighbors. Let's help our fellow Americans get covered. Let's give every American a fighting chance in today's economy.
Thank you so much, everybody. God bless you. God bless America. (Applause.)
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