WASHINGTON — The enrollment of more than 7 million people in health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act has led President Barack Obama to declare the law’s rollout a success. But Republican legislators vowed to continue to seek the statute’s repeal, and even though the ACA recorded its highest public approval level yet, at 49%, virtually the same percentage opposed it.
“No, the Affordable Care Act hasn’t fixed our long broken health care system, but this law has made our health care system a lot better,” Obama said in the Rose Garden. “Under this law, the share of Americans with insurance is up, and the growth of health care costs is down.”
The law’s critics, he said, have been proven wrong. “There are still no death panels. Armageddon has not arrived. Instead, this law is helping millions of Americans, and in the coming years it will help millions more.”
But House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) said the law “continues to wreak havoc on the families, seniors, and small businesses.”
Referring to last year’s bungled launch of HealthCare.gov, Boehner added: “The problem was never just about the website — it’s the whole law. Millions of Americans are seeing their premiums rise, not the lower prices the president promised. Many small businesses are afraid to hire new workers, instead cutting hours and dropping health coverage for existing employees. Many Americans can no longer see their family doctor, despite the pledge no one would lose access to their physician. Seniors are feeling the impact, losing their Medicare Advantage plans the president promised they could keep. And taxpayers are being forced to pick up an unaffordable tab.
“House Republicans will continue to work to repeal this law and protect families and small businesses from its harmful consequences. … We will also continue our work to replace this fundamentally flawed law with patient-centered solutions focused on lowering health care costs and protecting jobs.”
The political jockeying over the law continued with the House’s passage of a bill changing the ACA’s definition of full-time work from 30 to 40 hours week. Eighteen Democrats voted with the Republican majority to pass the bill, 248 to 179.
Jennifer Hatcher, senior vice president of government and public affairs at the Food Marketing Institute, says the legislation addresses a fundamental problem with the ACA without repealing or dismantling it.
“There is a growing consensus that the ACA’s redefining a full-time employee as someone who averages 30 hours per week is impacting the American workforce — both in workers’ take-home pay and operating a variable-hour business like a supermarket,” she says.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that, under the bill, “employers will not only continue to offer coverage, but remain the primary sponsor of health coverage by a wide margin,” she notes, adding that the legislation “provides additional flexibility that allows food retailers and wholesalers to continue offering quality, affordable health coverage to their employees.”
But there was little chance the Democratic majority would bring the measure up for a vote, and Obama threatened a veto if it cleared both houses. The president pointed to a CBO study finding that 1 million people would lose employer-backed coverage and that the number of uninsured would climb by almost 500,000 if the statute’s work definitions were revised.
Most congressional Democrats, pleased with the new enrollment figures, said Republicans were not standing up to companies seeking a reason to cut hours and pay.
“It is not Obamacare that decides how much somebody works, it’s the person who runs the company,” Rep. James McDermott (D.,Wash.) was quoted as saying in The Washington Post.