- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 12, 2016

President Obama used his final State of the Union address Tuesday to defend his signature health care law ahead of a momentous year for Obamacare, with just 12 months for him to address rising premiums, faltering health care plans and public doubt about the reforms.

With Republicans already eyeing the end of his tenure as their chance to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Obama urged Americans to reject the political attacks, saying the law has paid tremendous dividends during its six years of operation.

“It’s about filling the gaps in employer-based care so that when you lose a job, or you go back to school, or you strike out and launch that new business, you’ll still have coverage. Nearly 18 million have gained coverage so far. And in the process, health care inflation has slowed, and our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law,” Mr. Obama said.

Although he added, with a grin, that he is “just guessing” that factions in Washington won’t agree on health care anytime soon, after years of Republican attacks on his law.

Next up for the president is a trip to the heartland to promote the law and urge Americans to sign up before this year’s enrollment closes on Jan. 31. He will visit Nebraska and Louisiana, where he also will highlight the millions of customers Obamacare prevents from being denied insurance because of pre-existing medical conditions.

Yet three years into full implementation, the law faces significant political and financial headwinds that could cause it to crater, particularly once Mr. Obama is no longer its cheerleader in chief.

Customers in some parts of the country are seeing their premiums go up instead of down, more than half of the law’s co-op plans have failed and the nation’s largest insurer, UnitedHealth Group, has threatened to pull out of Obamacare’s Web-based exchanges by next year.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of customers recently lost taxpayer subsidies because they never filed 2014 returns.

“This thing’s just crumbling,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, Georgia Republican.

Mr. Price helped lead Congress to pass a substantial repeal of much of the law last week. Mr. Obama promptly vetoed that bill, but Republicans said they proved they could scrape together the votes for a repeal — if only they could get one of their own into the White House to sign it.

Polls suggest that Americans are still split over the law, tilting toward the negative, and Republicans hope to capitalize on that impression this week when they gather in Baltimore to brainstorm about how to replace Obamacare.

At the state level, Matt Bevin, Kentucky’s new Republican governor, is wiping his state’s fingerprints off a key pillar of Obamacare, fulfilling his campaign promise to dismantle the state’s Web-based exchange and use the federal HealthCare.gov website instead.

The administration remains bullish about the law’s prospects, saying the exchanges are attracting more of the young and healthy customers they need to keep premiums in check and touting the financial benefits of signing up.

“Eight out of 10 people who enrolled in a health insurance plan qualified for financial help,” the government said Tuesday in an email blast to HealthCare.gov customers. “In fact, most people can find monthly premiums for $75 or less.”

More than 11.5 million customers have enrolled in coverage so far this year, exceeding the administration’s own lowball expectations with several weeks to go until the Jan. 31 deadline.

But House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, Texas Republican, said Tuesday that enrollment had “stalled out,” coming in at roughly half what congressional scorekeepers projected, because low monthly bills don’t tell the whole story.

“People have realized ‘lower monthly premiums’ doesn’t translate into more affordable health care, because they’re getting out-of-pocket costs and limited networks,” he said. “I think Americans simply want a choice between the Affordable Care Act and what they think can be more tailored toward them. I think our job is to show them that choice, [and] what it means when they’re driving the design of health care rather than Washington.”

Mr. Obama said Republicans hoping to undo his reforms with a GOP president are in for a struggle.

“When something works, or the evidence shows that it’s helping people and you want to stop it just for ideological reasons, it turns out to be a little more difficult,” he told NBC’s “Today” show.

Indeed, Mr. Bevin had to walk back a threat to reverse Kentucky’s expansion of Medicaid to those making 138 percent of the federal poverty level, although he will seek reforms to the program.

Louisiana’s new governor, Democrat John Bel Edwards, signed an order Tuesday to expand Medicaid, making it the 31st state, plus the District of Columbia, to augment the government insurance program for the poor under Obamacare.

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