WASHINGTON — President Obama has vetoed congressional legislation that would repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Repeal bills passed by the House and Senate “would reverse the significant progress we have made in improving health care in America,” Obama said.
Noting that 17.6 million Americans have gained health care coverage under the law, he said the nation’s uninsured rate is at its lowest level ever. “Health care costs are lower than expected when the law was passed, and health care quality is higher — with improvements in patient safety saving an estimated 87,000 lives,” Obama said. “Health care has changed for the better, setting this country on a smarter, stronger course.”
The House measure was passed this month by a vote of 240 to 181, with one Democrat in favor and three Republicans opposed. Senate legislation was approved 52 to 47 in December.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) said that the legislation was advanced to force the president’s hand. “We are confronting the president with the hard, honest truth: Obamacare doesn’t work,” he said.
“The president will very glibly veto it,” Rep. Trent Franks (R., Ariz.) said of the bill. “But at least then it will be on him and everybody will know it.”
Earlier ACA repeal bids failed to get past Senate filibusters, and the White House has generally ignored the effort to overturn Obama’s signature domestic achievement. Democratic lawmakers called the latest measure more political theater.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.) said, “This is a political sound bite; this is a waste of taxpayer money; this is just a waste of everybody’s time.”
Conservative activists, however, say that the effort will build momentum for an actual repeal under a GOP president.
Ryan has vowed to replace the ACA with a more free market-oriented health care reform package. But Republicans have been reluctant to detail proposals.
“I’m curious, where is your alternative?” McGovern said. “Is it hidden in some secret room in the Capitol? Maybe Donald Trump has it? Perhaps we should alert the Capitol Police or, better yet, maybe we can call the FBI to locate the Republican plan on health care.”
Democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton said Republicans were “willing to turn their backs” on the newly insured under the ACA.
Still, more of the public views the health care law unfavorably (46%) than favorably (40%), according to the most recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll. The public also remains divided over what Congress should do next, with just over a third (35%) supporting repeal and others favoring scaling back the law (14%), implementing it as is (18%) or expanding it (22%).
Half (51%) of the public say they have not been personally impacted by the law, though more say they have been hurt by it than say they have been helped (29% and 17%, respectively).
Much of what Republicans predicted has occurred, Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) said, citing higher premiums and deductibles, and confusion among employers about the definition of full-time work. Americans’ personal finances have suffered, she said, while adding that Republicans need a replacement plan.
Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said the government had seen “unprecedented demand” for coverage. “Yet at the same time, we continue to see efforts to repeal the ACA and turn back the clock.”
According to a report released this month, more than 11.3 million people are signed up for coverage through the health insurance marketplaces in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. That includes 8.6 million people (76%) who used the HealthCare.gov platform, and 2.7 million people (24%) who used the 13 state-based marketplaces.
“We’re encouraged that marketplace consumers are increasingly young, engaged and shopping for the best plan,” said Burwell.