As the White House remains consumed by the debate over military intervention in Syria, former President Bill Clinton made an unusual political appearance to urge bipartisan implementation of President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement: the 2010 health care reform law.
Appearing in his home state of Arkansas, Clinton –once described by Obama as the "Secretary of Explaining Stuff” – worked to make a detailed case for the overhaul, acknowledging some problems with it, but arguing that opponents should work to fix those glitches rather than reject the law of the land.
“We all get paid to show up for work and we need all hands on deck here,” he said in remarks directed at opponents of the Affordable Care Act who have voted to defund the legislation or block its implementation in the states. “The health of our people, the security and stability of our families, and the strength of our economy are all riding on getting health care reform right and doing it well.”
Former President Bill Clinton speaks Wednesday in Arkansas at his presidential library about the Affordable Care Act.
In a policy-heavy speech that lasted almost an hour, Clinton praised the sweeping insurance law and argued that – despite some problems inherent in the massive legislation – this new structure is better than the old health care system.
“This law’s already done a lot of good,” he said. “It’s about to make 95 percent of us insured with access to affordable care. It has built-in incentives to lower costs and improve quality.”
But, he said, the positive effects of the law will be muted if those who opposed the law before its passage continue to work to reverse it rather than address what he says are relatively small problems that can be easily fixed with bipartisan innovation.
“It seems to me that the benefits of reform can’t be fully realized and the problems certainly can’t be solved unless both the supporters and the opponents of the original legislation work together to implement it and address the issues that arise any time you change a system this complex,” he said.
“There are always drafting errors, unintended consequences, unanticipated issues. We’re going to do better working together and learning together than we will trying over and over to repeal a law or rooting for reform to fail.”
Clinton, known for his stem-winding policy talks, won laughter for saying he believed the topic was important enough for a more disciplined verbal path.
“I have done something unusual for me,” he said, waving pieces of paper in each hand. “I actually wrote this whole thing out. I am going to try to use very few adjectives [and] explain how this works, what’s been done, and what has to be done.”
In his remarks, Clinton delved into the details of the policies, reading out the toll-free numbers available for those who want to enroll in the exchanges and explaining the tiered system offered through the Affordable Care Act.
And he punctuated his remarks with statistics, pronounced carefully from notes – offering figures from the rates of hospital readmission to historical percentages of uninsured low-income Americans.
The former president also laid out what he sees as potential problems with the law, singling out one provision that could prevent workers with modest incomes from obtaining cheaper health insurance on the exchange if their employer fails to offer workers’ families insurance coverage.
Clinton also cited loopholes that could make full-time workers ineligible to receive needed subsidies to purchase health care on the exchanges.
The American public remains largely confused about the law, which was signed into law more than three years ago but is set to have its centerpiece – government-run insurance exchanges in all 50 states – implemented just weeks from now.
A Kaiser Family Foundation study in June found that 45 percent of adults aged 18 to 64 said they knew “nothing at all” about the insurance marketplaces, which are designed to offer affordable insurance plans to those who don’t have a plan through their employer.
Another report by the Commonwealth Fund found that about three in four adults under 29 are unaware of the exchange system at all. Clinton urged young people to buy insurance because “it’s both the right and the smart thing to do.”
This story was originally published on Wed Sep 4, 2013 2:14 PM EDT