With his healthcare reform under attack and Americans increasingly skeptical of its benefits, President Barack Obama went on the offensive Thursday, announcing the program will put $500 million into consumers' pockets this summer and claiming it has lowered insurance rates by $3.4 billion.
At a White House announcement, Obama said 8.5 million policy holders will get rebate checks from insurance companies that spent less than 80 percent of premiums on actual medical care, one of the rules under Obamacare that is intended to limit administrative costs and profits.
Obama, flanked by a dozen people who have received rebates or have seen their insurance rates go down, estimated the average check would be about $100, evidence he claimed showed the program is working.
The president's speech, his third address solely to tout Obamacare this year, signals a renewed effort to promote the controversial law as it faces a new round of withering attacks from Republicans
who on Wednesday held two votes to repeal key provisions of the law.
Republicans were quick to respond on Thursday. House Speaker John Boehner insisted the GOP would continue fighting Obamacare.
"The law has to go," Boehner said after the president's speech, vowing to continue to work to "fully repeal the president's healthcare law in its entirety once and for all."
Boehner said he has asked Reps. Tim Griffin, an Arkansas Republican, and Todd Young, a Republican from Indiana, co-sponsors of the two latest bills to repeal mandates, to keep up the pressure on Obamacare when they deliver the weekly Republican address.
"Fairness is a basic tenet of our society," Boehner said at a press briefing Thursday. "And it is the bare minimum the American people should expect from their government. But too often under this president, they aren't seeing it."
And Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia's Republican attorney general, released a video statement after Obama's speech dismissing the president's claims as "damage control."
Cuccinelli, one of the attorneys general who filed lawsuits to block Obamacare, said the healthcare law continues to foist new costs on employers and said it will hike rates for some Virginians.
"Recently Gallup released a poll of small business owners showing over 40 percent of them were holding off on hiring or expansion simply because of the cost and uncertainty imposed by Obamacare," said Cuccinelli, a candidate for governor of Virginia. "That's a job-killing impact of a job-killing law."
Obama accused the Republicans of playing politics by continuing to attack Obamacare.
"I mention all this because [Wednesday], despite all the evidence that the law is working the way it is supposed to for middle-class Americans, Republicans in the House of Representatives voted for nearly the 40th time to dismantle it," Obama said.
"We've got a lot of important work to do," Obama said. "Yet instead, we are refighting these old battles. Sometimes I just try to figure out why. Maybe they think it's good politics. But part of our job here is to not always think about politics."
House GOP leaders seized on the Obama administration's surprise move last week to delay the start of an employer mandate to provide health insurance or pay hefty fines. The White House rolled back the start from 2014 to 2015 to give businesses more time to comply with the law.
Republicans claim the White House is giving businesses a break, while continuing to force individuals to comply with onerous rules that will force almost every American to have health insurance or pay fines beginning next year.
"To say, 'Well, we're going to ... relax this mandate for a year on American business, but we're going to continue to stick it to individuals and families,' is strictly and simply unfair to the American people," Boehner said Wednesday.
Voting mostly along party lines, the House on Wednesday approved delaying the employer mandate by a vote of 264-161. But the House also voted 251-174 to extend a similar grace period to virtually all Americans who will be required to obtain coverage beginning Jan. 1, the linchpin of the law.
Both measures are likely dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and the White House has vowed that they would face a presidential veto if the bills made it as far as Obama's desk.
But Republicans hope the vote will pay dividends in the 2014 midterm elections by forcing Democrats to vote against delaying the start of the individual mandate.
Obama didn't address the latest controversy over the employer-mandate delay, other than to concede "that more work needs to be done" in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. He instead tried to focus on what could be called the positive effects of Obamacare amid growing public sentiment that the healthcare reform will make insurance more expensive and will force employers to slash jobs and hours.
"Most folks won't know that when a check comes in this was because of Obamacare," he said of the rebates that went out for the first time last summer.
"Generally speaking, what we've seen is that healthcare costs have slowed drastically in a lot of areas since we passed the affordable care act," he said. "We have a lot more work to do, but healthcare costs are not skyrocketing the way they were."
The White House yesterday also released a report that claims the average cost of health insurance premiums will drop about 18 percent in 11 states next year when Obamacare takes effect, which is lower than the Congressional Budget Office had predicted.
Among the 11 states is New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday announced that insurance premiums would drop by more than 50 percent next year. New York was among the first states to develop a health exchange under the law, where individuals can buy insurance.
Costs for a middle-of-the-road insurance policy average roughly $321 per month across the 11 states that have released their rate filings for next year, administration officials said — compared with initial estimates of $392 per month.
But the push to put a positive spin on Obamacare remains an uphill fight.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll last week found that 49 percent of Americans surveyed believe the Affordable Care Act is a "bad idea," which was the most negative response since the poll began tracking sentiment on Obamacare three years ago.
And 38 percent also said that the law would make the country "worse off." Only 19 percent think it will make the country "better off."
Even traditionally Democratic union leaders came out last week to blast Obamacare, which they insist will create incentives for employers to limit work hours to avoid paying fines for failing to provide insurance.
Obamacare created a new definition of a full-time worker as anyone putting in 30 hours or more a week.
Leaders from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and UNITE-HERE wrote Democratic leaders in Congress last week, imploring them to change the law to protect their workers.
"Time is running out: Congress wrote this law; we voted for you. We have a problem; you need to fix it. The unintended consequences of the [Affordable Care Act] are severe. Perverse incentives are already creating nightmare scenarios," the union leaders wrote.
Democrats have downplayed the claims, insisting that a vast majority of businesses that would be affected by the employer mandate already provide health insurance.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 95 percent of employers with 50 or more workers already offer health benefits.
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