As the Supreme Court weighs the fate of a major part of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama Tuesday laid out the moral underpinnings of the law in a speech to the Catholic Health Association.
Noting some of the individuals who make up the millions of Americans who have gained insurance coverage or new protections in the five years since the law was enacted, the president said: “Behind every single story was a simple question – what kind of country do we want to be?”
Obama’s tone was much more conciliatory than it was the day before, when during a news conference wrapping up the G-7 meeting in Germany he said of the case now before the Supreme Court, “Frankly, it probably shouldn’t even have been taken up.”
The court is expected to issue a ruling in the case, King v. Burwell, by the end of the month. It challenges the legality of insurance subsidies provided to those in the three-quarters of states that opted not to set up their own insurance marketplace and instead use the one run by the federal government. More than 6 million people could lose those payments and many more residents could see their premiums increase because of the havoc the loss of subsidies would cause in the market.
The president on Monday also reiterated the administration’s assertion that it has no specific contingency plan should the court strike down the subsidies, because it does not think that’s likely to happen and has little discretion to offer relief to consumers. “I think it’s important for us to go ahead and assume that the Supreme Court is going to do what most legal scholars who’ve looked at this would expect them to do,” Obama said, which is uphold the subsidies.
In the speech to the Catholic Health Association, which was a key ally in passing the health law, Obama did take a swipe or two at those who continue efforts to overturn it.
“There’s something just deeply cynical about the ceaseless, endless, partisan attempts to roll back progress,” he said, alluding to ongoing Republican efforts to repeal and replace the law.
Congressional Republicans have been adamant that they will have a plan if the court strikes down subsidies. But so far they have not agreed on a single proposal.
On Tuesday, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., introduced another in a long series of GOP alternatives to Obamacare. This one, however, is co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas. Their “Patient Freedom Act” would allow states to continue to use state insurance exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act or instead use the funding for subsidies to help people buy insurance to underwrite health savings accounts.
Such bills are unnecessary, the president said, because the current federal health law is working. “This isn’t about myths or rumors that folks try to sustain. There is a reality that people on the ground, day to day, are experiencing. Their lives are better.”