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President defends Obamacare: ‘We’re not going back’

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He stopped short of declaring "mission accomplished," but President Obama made clear Tuesday that he's done apologizing for the failures of his landmark health-care reform law and instead will lead a full-blown public-relations effort to sell it to the American people.

Speaking to a raucous crowd of supporters at the White House, the president sidestepped many of the lingering problems with the law and flatly stated that it has been and will continue to be a success.

He said his administration met its self-imposed Dec. 1 deadline to fix many of the problems at the glitch-plagued website HealthCare.gov, which has dominated headlines in recent weeks and become exhibit A in what critics see as the federal government's failed effort to tackle health-care reform.

Moving forward, Mr. Obama said his administration is now ready to tackle whatever problems arise, and he made a direct plea to supporters to counter the negative stories surrounding Obamacare — such as Americans being forced to change doctors or insurance companies taking billion-dollar hits to their bottom lines to comply with the law — with tales of its success.

"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," the president said. "I'm going to need some help in spreading the world. 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 ... 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."

Tuesday's remarks come at a crucial time for the White House. The next few weeks likely will see a spike in uninsured Americans seeking coverage, as they must sign up by Dec. 23 in order for it to take effect by Jan. 1.

The comments also were the latest example of the president fully embracing his role as salesman-in-chief. A strong sales pitch surely is needed as Obamacare has come under fire from both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill and from other quarters across the nation.

Negative publicity and intense criticism has already pushed the White House to make changes to the law to truly allow Americans to keep their health insurance if they like it — a pledge the president made repeatedly over the past several years but one that proved untrue after the law went into effect and millions of cancellation notices were sent out across the country.

In addition to the troubles individual Americans have encountered, there's growing evidence Obamacare will carry consequences for the health-insurance industry.

The nation's largest health insurer, UnitedHealth Group, said Tuesday it expects to pay as much as $1.9 billion in taxes and fees imposed by the new law. Obamacare, the company said, will take about $1.1 billion out of its after-tax operating earnings in 2014, according to the Associated Press.

It's another example, critics say, of the underlying problems that are destined to doom Obamacare, no matter how intense a public-relations push the White House mounts.

"Another campaign-style event won't solve the myriad problems facing consumers under Obamacare," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said immediately after the president spoke. "The American people have been learning about the impact Obamacare will have on individuals and families in the form of higher premiums, disrupted insurance and lost jobs — more broken promises from this administration. And they're becoming increasingly aware of the fact Obamacare is broken beyond repair."

For his part, Mr. Obama again acknowledged that the law's rollout was flawed and gave ammunition to his critics. The rollout's biggest problem, the faulty website, still is hindering the larger Obamacare effort, despite the president's assurances it has gotten better and will continue to improve.

Some who visited the site in recent days — including more than 1 million people on Monday alone — encountered problems and were placed in a "queue" system and asked to come back to the site later during off-peak hours.

Such high traffic is expected to continue heading toward the Dec. 23 deadline for those seeking insurance by the start of 2014.

But whether website woes or other problems persist seems to be of secondary importance to an administration bent on moving ahead with the law.

"We're not going back," Mr. Obama said. "We're not repealing it as long as I'm president. I want everybody to be clear about that. We will make it work for all Americans."

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