Facing a pivotal Supreme Court decision on the future of his signature health-care law, President Barack Obama said Tuesday that attacks on Obamacare should end now that millions of Americans depend on it for insurance coverage.
“There’s something, I have to say, that’s just deeply cynical about the ceaseless, endless, partisan attempts to roll back progress,” Obama said Tuesday in a speech to Catholic hospital officials in Washington. “It seems so cynical to want to take coverage away from millions of people, to take care away from the people who need it the most.”
The speech was the most visible sign of a White House effort to shape the political battleground in the aftermath of the court’s decision -- a linchpin moment whether favorable or not, said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a consumer advocacy group that backs Obamacare.
A court ruling upholding the health law would help accelerate its entrenchment in American society, Pollack said. A ruling against the administration would spark a political fight to pass legislation to fix the law without undermining its goals.
“The president is laying the groundwork,” Pollack said.
A decision is expected this month in the suit, King v. Burwell, which challenges the availability of tax credits to discount the cost of insurance in at least 34 states. Opponents of the law say it allows subsidies in no more than 16 states that created insurance marketplaces, called exchanges.
Not ‘Just a Law’
“Five years in, what we are talking about is no longer just a law,” Obama said in his speech, at the the annual conference of the Catholic Health Association. “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.”
An adverse Supreme Court ruling would throw insurance markets into disarray, Obama said Monday after the Group of Seven meeting in Germany. The suit is the latest challenge to a law that has survived dozens of congressional attempts to repeal it, a 2012 Supreme Court case to determine its constitutionality and an election in which the president’s challengers vowed to overturn it.
More than 6 million consumers risk losing discounts on their monthly premiums if the court rules against the Obama administration.
Obama has said he is confident that won’t happen. The Supreme Court probably shouldn’t have taken up the case challenging the federal subsidies, Obama said Monday in Germany. In order to rule against the health-care law the justices would have to make a “contorted” and “twisted” reading of the law, he said.
Republicans, who have led the charge to repeal the Affordable Care Act, will act to support people who would lose subsidies under a ruling against the Obama administration, Representative Paul Ryan said.
“We will have a Republican alternative to deal with this, so that people who are caught in the crossfire of this unconstitutional law -- should the court determine that it’s unconstitutional -- have a way to go,” Ryan, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in an interview.
Ryan provided no details of the legislation.
In his speech Tuesday, the president made the case that the law is already benefiting millions of people. He described several families that had received life-changing care.
“There are parents in Texas whose autistic son couldn’t speak,” he said. “Today, that little boy can tell his parents that he loves them.”
Before the president’s speech, the White House released a fact sheet detailing benefits of the health-care law, including a reduction in the uninsured rate to 11.9 percent in the first quarter of 2015 from 17.1 percent in 2013.
The White House also released a letter written by Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, a Democrat who pushed for the health-care legislation before he died in 2009.
“I felt confident in these closing days that while I will not be there when it happens, you will be the president who at long last signs into law the health-care reform that is the great unfinished business of our society,” Kennedy wrote in the letter to Obama dated May 12, 2009. He instructed his wife to send it to Obama after his death, about three months later.
Obama said Monday that Congress could settle the issue at the heart of the Supreme Court case with a “one-sentence” change to the law. Some Republicans, however, see the lawsuit as an opportunity to undo what they view as Obamacare’s most onerous provisions.
“Republicans aren’t interested in a one-sentence fix -- unless that sentence is: ’Obamacare is repealed,’” John Barrasso of Wyoming, the fourth-ranking Republican in the Senate, said in a speech preceding Obama’s remarks. “We want to protect the American people from this complicated, confusing and costly health care law.”