By Jonathan Easley - 01/28/14 10:58 PM EST
President Obama used the State of the Union address on Tuesday to urge people to enroll in a health plan through ObamaCare by the March 31 deadline.
Speaking in front of House and Senate Republicans who have sought to defund and repeal the law, the president asked parents to get their kids to sign up.
“Tonight, I ask every American who knows someone without health insurance to help them get covered by March 31,” Obama said. “Moms, get on your kids to sign up. Kids, call your mom and walk her through the application. It will give her some peace of mind. Plus, she’ll appreciate hearing from you.”
The Health and Human Services (HHS) Department has said 3 million people had selected a plan as of last week, but two months of website problems has kept the administration scrambling to make up for lost time.
But Obama stayed on the offensive Tuesday and didn’t address or apologize for any of the myriad issues that have materialized since the rollout. In addition to the website problems, the president encountered a stiff backlash over his broken promise that people could keep healthcare plans they liked, and Republicans have raised concerns about potential security flaws with the federal ObamaCare website.
Instead, the president focused on the personal stories of people who have benefitted under the law. He singled out Amanda Shelley, a physician assistant sitting in the first lady’s box as a guest of the Obamas, who couldn’t get health insurance because of a pre-existing condition until Jan. 1, when she got an emergency medical procedure with her new ObamaCare plan.
“That’s what health insurance reform is all about, the peace of mind that if misfortune strikes, you don’t have to lose everything,” Obama said.
Republicans on Tuesday sought to highlight the personal stories of those who say they’ve been hurt by the healthcare law. About a dozen GOP lawmakers invited people who say they've been harmed by the healthcare law to the chamber as their guests for the State of the Union address.
“Despite the President’s glowing assessment, the simple fact is that ObamaCare is a disaster that’s holding down our entire economy,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said in a statement responding to the State of the Union.
And in the official Republican response to the president’s address, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) told the story of a woman from her state who she says saw her premiums rise by nearly $700 a month.
“We’ve all talked to too many people who have received cancellation notices they didn’t expect, or can no longer see the doctors they’ve always had,” she said. “No, we don’t want to go back to the way things were, but this law is not working.”
The president pointed to the Medicaid expansion as another of the law’s successes, as well as those under the age of 26 who have been able to stay covered under a parent's plan.
“And here’s another number: zero,” Obama continued. “Because of this law, no American can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a preexisting condition like asthma, back pain or cancer. No woman can ever be charged more just because she’s a woman.”
That remark got the president’s first standing ovation on healthcare from Democrats in the chamber.
The president acknowledged that he would never “convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law,” but urged Republicans to stop with their repeal efforts and “tell America what you’d do differently.”
“Let’s see if the numbers add up, but let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans like Amanda,” Obama said. “The first 40 were plenty. We got it. We all owe it to the American people to say what we’re for, not just what we’re against.”
The dig against Republicans received a raucous standing ovation from Democrats. Vice President Biden smiled and looked over at Boehner, who sat stoically, and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius fought back a smile.
But on Monday, Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) released a substantial legislative blueprint for an ObamaCare alternative that abolishes the law’s federal mandates in favor of a voluntary system led by the states.
They hope their colleagues will work on the outline and turn it into a bill that could potentially be signed into law by 2016.
On Tuesday, Obama also gave a shout-out to Gov. Steve Beshear (D-Ky.), who he described as “a man possessed when it comes to covering his commonwealth’s families.”
Beshear was also on hand as a guest of the Obamas. He has been one of the most vocal state-level proponents for ObamaCare, and has overseen one of the most successful implementations of the law.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) disputed the notion that Kentucky was an ObamaCare success story in a preemptive rebuttal to the State of the Union.
“Just last night, I hosted a tele-town-hall meeting where Kentuckians shared their stories about the stress that ObamaCare is causing them and their families: restricted access to doctors and hospitals, lost jobs, lower wages, fewer choices, higher costs,” McConnell said. “I assure you, these folks won’t be applauding when the president tries to spin this law as a success tonight. ... $253 million. That’s how much Washington has spent so far for these results in my state. A quarter of a billion dollars to essentially limit care, cancel plans and increase costs.”
McConnell is facing a Republican primary challenger and is in a dead heat in the polls with his likely Democratic opponent.
Posted at 9:51 p.m. and updated.