Obama touts benefits of Affordable Care Act

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LARGO, Md. -- Congress is creating a lot of confusion over health care reform, but it's pretty simple, President Barack Obama told an enthusiastic crowd at a community college this morning.

America has been the only advanced nation in the world where there is no right to health care. The Affordable Care Act is changing that, Mr. Obama told students five days before Americans will get their first chance to sign up for coverage -- some subsidized -- under the new law.

"If you're one of over 40 million Americans who don't have health insurance starting on Tuesday ... you'll finally have the chance to buy quality, affordable health insurance," he said.

Even as he spoke, Republicans in Congress were making last-ditch efforts to undermine provisions of the signature domestic policy, saying it's a dangerous law that impedes individual liberty and will cost jobs.

"The closer we get [to implementation] the more desperate they get. The past few weeks the rhetoric has just been ramped up," Mr. Obama said.

The opposition has culminated in a threat to stop funding the government if Democrats insist on full implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Mr. Obama told the crowd that Republicans are using that threat to blackmail him into making concessions but that he will not negotiate.

"There's been a lot of confusion, but there are few things more important to the economic security of the middle class -- and everybody trying to get into the middle class -- than health care," Mr. Obama said.

Meanwhile, 15 miles away on the U.S. Senate floor, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was giving an impassioned speech of his own, characterizing the president as a pitchman trying to sell a skeptical public on a bad deal.

"Americans aren't buying the spin," he said.

"Small business owners want to know how they're ever, ever going to comply with more than 20,000 pages of regulations. They want to know how they're going to be able to keep their employees insured, work forces growing, businesses expanding and -- far too often -- their doors open once this law comes online," Mr. McConnell said.

He was referring to portions of the act that eventually will require businesses with more than 50 employees to offer health insurance or pay penalties.

"I hope some of my Democrat friends who voted for this law will look themselves in the mirror and think -- truly think -- about whether protecting the president's pride is more important than helping the American people," Mr. McConnell said. "We can do better than this."

Meanwhile, at Prince George's Community College in suburban Washington, D.C., the president assured that his plan is "here to stay."

Until now, insurance was unaffordable for tens of millions of Americans whose employers didn't offer that benefit, Mr. Obama said. For many, premiums were out of reach in the individual market -- if they could find coverage at all from insurers who rejected them because of pre-existing conditions, he said.

Under the Affordable Care Act insurers must cover pre-existing conditions and cannot cap benefits, he said to cheers of more than 1,000 people in the college gymnasium.

Opponents of the health law say the government shouldn't require individuals to buy health insurance or employers to provide it, but the president said the system only works when everyone participates.

"The reason ... is when uninsured people can afford to buy insurance and don't and then they get sick or they get hit by a car and show up in an emergency room, who do you think pays for that?" Mr. Obama asked. "You do -- in the form of higher premiums, because hospitals have to get their money back somehow so [insurance companies] jack up premiums on people who have health insurance."

Enrollment begins Tuesday for coverage that begins as soon as Jan. 1. After April 1 coverage will be required for most Americans and those who don't comply will be assessed fines.

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Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: tmauriello@post-gazette.com, 703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets. First Published September 26, 2013 12:30 AM


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