Bill Clinton calls on Obamacare detractors to make the law work

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Former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday called on Obamacare’s opponents to embrace the new health care law, arguing Americans cannot tolerate from “now to eternity” a broken health care system that lags behind those of other rich nations.

Mr. Clinton, speaking at his presidential library in Little Rock, Ark., promoted the Affordable Care Act less than a month before it is implemented in earnest through open enrollment on state-based health exchanges. Under the exchanges, qualified consumers without employer-based health coverage may buy insurance through the help of government subsidies.


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He said detractors and supporters of the law need to get over their differences, cease repeated votes to repeal Obamacare and implement the law so it provides coverage to millions more Americans and reduces the fiscal impact of uncompensated care at hospitals across the country.

“We all get paid to show up for work, and we need all hands on deck here,” he said.

With reading glasses fixed at the end of his nose, he used economic figures on health spending to lay out the case for President Obama’s signature reforms in an analytical and explanatory tone — checkered with ample humor — in lieu of turned-up volume or charisma.

“I have done something unusual for me — I actually wrote this whole thing out,” Mr. Clinton said, holding up pieces of paper from the podium.

He said the United States spends much more on health care than industrialized nations like Japan and Switzerland, only to see worse outcomes.

“Other countries at our income level cover everybody and do it for far less cost,” he said, building the case that Obamacare would help fix the problem.

His speech provided a high-profile defense of President Obama’s signature reforms against a tide of criticism from conservatives who say the law must be stopped in its tracks before the subsidies take root.

A breakaway group of Senate GOP lawmakers are calling on Congress to reject any spending bills that include money for the law, and outside groups, including the Senate Conservatives Fund, are taking aim at Republicans who refuse to join the fight to defund Obamacare.

The Republican National Committee on Wednesday launched a month-long campaign against the law, including a website that features videos about the reforms’ deleterious effects in certain states and a running “Countdown to Obamacare Train Wreck.”

Mr. Clinton admitted the law is not perfect and needs to be amended. But he outlined fixes are unlikely to draw support from conservative quarters, since they call for expanded benefits for workers, small businesses and residents of states that chose not to expand Medicaid.

The 42nd president, who has been dubbed the “secretary of explaining stuff” by the Obama administration, ran through a checklist of Obamacare reforms in his speech and heaped praise on Arkansas’ efforts to implement a key pillar of the law in a bipartisan fashion.

Lawmakers in Little Rock pioneered a “private option” that would let them expand Medicaid enrollment — a provision of the law made optional by the Supreme Court — by leveraging federal dollars to purchase private coverage for the newly qualified population on the state exchanges.

Mr. Clinton was critical of states that chose not to expand the federal-state health entitlement to those making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, saying it could have strange consequences for low-income families who do not qualify for Medicaid, yet earn too little to qualify for tax credits reserved for people with incomes at 100 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

“Not too rich, too poor [to get benefits],” he said. “And this is a serious problem.”

He said young people are eager to obtain health coverage under the law, either through their parents’ plans until age 26 or through the exchanges, despite prevailing wisdom that healthy young adults have other priorities.

The Obama administration is banking on young, healthier people to balance out the risk pools on the exchanges so premiums do not skyrocket, a situation that Mr. Clinton outlined in his remarks.

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