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Obama Says Health Law Critics ‘Grossly Misleading’

Photographer: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on healthcare at Faneuil Hall in Boston on Oct. 30, 2013. Close

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on healthcare at Faneuil Hall in Boston on Oct. 30, 2013.

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Photographer: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on healthcare at Faneuil Hall in Boston on Oct. 30, 2013.

President Barack Obama defended his health-care law, saying the flawed online insurance exchange will get fixed and accusing critics of “grossly misleading” the public about how the program works.

Speaking at a rally in Boston yesterday, Obama said the experience of Massachusetts with the start of its health-care system in 2006 shows that the federal version, passed in 2010, will succeed. He addressed two criticisms from Republicans: that while he promised that people who liked their insurance could keep it, not all can, and that some people’s insurance will get more expensive.

“A fraction” of higher income Americans will pay more for insurance plans that are better than they had, Obama said. Those people being thrown off plans that don’t meet the law’s standards will be getting better insurance, he said.

“If you leave that stuff out, you’re being grossly misleading, to say the least,” Obama said at historic Faneuil Hall. “It’s no surprise that some of the same folks trying to scare people now are the same folks who’ve been trying to sink the Affordable Care Act from the beginning.”

Obama spoke hours after his Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, apologized at a House hearing in Washington for the “debacle” of the failed opening of the online insurance exchange that is a central part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Romney’s Law

The hall where he delivered his remarks is where then-Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican who challenged Obama in the 2012 presidential campaign, signed the Massachusetts health-care overhaul into law. Obama said Romney was joined that day by members of both parties, including now-deceased Senator Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who championed universal health care.

Obama said a major part of the state law’s success was from the bipartisan support it received. They “joined forces to connect the progressive vision of health care for all with some ideas about markets and competition that had long been championed by conservatives,” Obama said. “It worked.”

The flawed debut of the federal exchange, where uninsured Americans can shop for coverage, and the prospect of millions of people being thrown off existing plans have tarnished Obama’s signature first-term legislative achievement and threaten to overwhelm his second-term agenda.

Obama’s Polling

Obama’s job-approval ratings hit an all-time low in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released yesterday that illustrated the political damage from the troubled rollout of the health-care law.

Forty-two percent of Americans surveyed gave Obama a favorable rating, with 51 percent expressing disapproval, according to the poll. That’s down from a favorable rating of 47 percent earlier this month and 53 percent at the end of last year, according to the poll.

The survey of 800 adults was conducted between Oct. 25-28 and has an error margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

While acknowledging the rocky start for the law, Obama argued that Massachusetts also endured setbacks that that resulted in predictions that companies would drop coverage and that the cost of care would shoot up.

“All the parade of horribles, the worst predictions about health care reform in Massachusetts never came true,” he said. “They’re the same arguments that you’re hearing now.”

Romney Responds

Romney, who promised in 2012 to roll back the law known as Obamacare, said yesterday that the Democratic president didn’t learn the right lessons from Massachusetts.

“Health reform is best crafted by states with bipartisan support and input from its employers, as we did, without raising taxes, and by carefully phasing it in to avoid the type of disruptions we are seeing nationally,” he said in a statement posted yesterday on his Facebook page.

The Affordable Care Act received no Republican support when it passed and House Republicans have voted more than 40 times to repeal the measure since then. Some Republican governors have balked at installing its elements, including federally subsidized Medicaid expansions to help the poor obtain care and setting up state insurance exchanges.

The federal exchange serves 36 states that don’t have their own. Since opening Oct. 1 at the start of a six-month open enrollment period, the website has been plagued by delays, error messages and hang-ups that have prevented many customers from completing applications.

Sebelius Testifies

“No one ever imagined the volume of issues that we have, and we must fix it,” Sebelius said yesterday at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. She said she is “accountable for the debacle. I’m responsible.”

While Republicans have called for her dismissal, Obama “has complete confidence in Secretary Sebelius,” Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, told reporters traveling with the president yesterday.

Demonstrators protesting TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s Keystone XL pipeline interrupted Obama’s speech.

“Mr. president, stop the pipeline,” they shouted.

Obama responded by telling them they were at the wrong event. “We had the climate change rally back in the summer,” he said. “This is the health-care rally.”

While in Boston, Obama also spoke at a fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the fifth he’s done for the committee for the 2014 midterm elections. It was at the home of Alan D. Solomont and Susan Lewis Solomont. Alan Solomont, an Obama campaign bundler, served as ambassador to Spain and Andorra until August.

The event, complete with Spanish food and Red Sox cookies, drew about 60 guests, including documentarian Ken Burns. Tickets range from $16,200 to $32,400 per person, according to the committee.

To contact the reporter on this story: Margaret Talev in Washington at mtalev@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net

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