The president devoted less than 7 percent of his State of the Union address — just 462 words in a speech that was 6,778 words long — to an anecdotal and weak defense of his signature legislative achievement.
Surely Democrats in the Senate who are facing the voters for the first time this November after voting for Obamacare were expecting much more. Instead, they got an anecdote, pointing to Amanda Shelley of Arizona who needed a safety net and was grateful for Obamacare. But the president didn’t mount a strong, energetic defense of the law or make any explanation for its obvious and embarrassing failures.
He didn’t mention or offer any solutions to the millions of people whose insurance has been canceled because of Obamacare. And he said nothing that indicates he will do anything to help the tens of millions more who face the prospect of losing their health insurance and even their job this year as the law’s mandates continue to crash through our economy.
And he didn’t explain why health insurance is so expensive in the Obamacare exchanges and why people are complaining loudly about the narrow networks and high deductibles and co-payments.
He also didn’t acknowledge the hard work that Republicans have been doing in developing replacement plans, including one introduced this week by Senators Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Orrin Hatch of Utah, and Richard Burr of North Carolina.
And finally, the fact checkers are going to have a heyday with this: “More than 9 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage,” he said. That is stretching the numbers to the breaking point: It includes people who have selected policies but not paid, people who have signed up and are trying to disenroll after seeing the high premiums, and people who have been enrolled in Medicaid but not for the first time and not because of Obamacare.
We will have truth in numbers, hopefully. But for the time being, here are the president’s weak 462 words in his last opportunity to mount a major defense of the law that will define the success or failure of his presidency:
One last point on financial security. For decades, few things exposed hard-working families to economic hardship more than a broken health-care system. And in case you haven’t heard, we’re in the process of fixing that.
A pre-existing condition used to mean that someone like Amanda Shelley, a physician assistant and single mom from Arizona, couldn’t get health insurance. But on January 1st, she got covered. On January 3rd, she felt a sharp pain. On January 6th, she had emergency surgery. Just one week earlier, Amanda said, that surgery would’ve meant bankruptcy.
That’s what health insurance reform is all about — the peace of mind that if misfortune strikes, you don’t have to lose everything.
Already, because of the Affordable Care Act, more than 3 million Americans under age 26 have gained coverage under their parents’ plans.
More than 9 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage.
And here’s another number: zero. Because of this law, no American can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a preexisting condition like asthma, back pain, or cancer. No woman can ever be charged more just because she’s a woman. And we did all this while adding years to Medicare’s finances, keeping Medicare premiums flat, and lowering prescription costs for millions of seniors.
Now, I don’t expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law. But I know that the American people aren’t interested in refighting old battles. So again, if you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, and increase choice — tell America what you’d do differently. Let’s see if the numbers add up. But let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans like Amanda. The first 40 were plenty. We got it. We all owe it to the American people to say what we’re for, not just what we’re against.
And if you want to know the real impact this law is having, just talk to Governor Steve Beshear of Kentucky, who’s here tonight. Kentucky’s not the most liberal part of the country, but he’s like a man possessed when it comes to covering his commonwealth’s families. “They are our friends and neighbors,” he said. “They are people we shop and go to church with . . . farmers out on the tractors . . . grocery clerks . . . they are people who go to work every morning praying they don’t get sick. No one deserves to live that way.”
Steve’s right. That’s why, tonight, I ask every American who knows someone without health insurance to help them get covered by March 31st. Moms, get on your kids to sign up. Kids, call your mom and walk her through the application. It will give her some peace of mind — plus, she’ll appreciate hearing from you.