President Obama declared that his signature healthcare law “is here to stay” during a rousing speech Thursday in suburban Maryland.
Five days before the law’s insurance exchanges open, Obama told nearly 2,000 college students and community members that Republicans were more afraid the law would succeed than fail.
Republicans in the House have sought to delay the healthcare law on legislation to raise the debt ceiling and to defund it through a measure to fund the government. Neither seems likely to move through the Senate.
He reiterated that he would block such efforts if Republicans attach language to a spending measure to keep the government operating.
“Even if you thought ObamaCare was going to hurt the economy, it wouldn't hurt the economy as much as a government shutdown,” a confrontational Obama said.
Attendees leaped to a standing ovation, chanting "Obama! Obama!” during the hour-long program.
The president also touted benefits that many Americans already received from his healthcare law, including free access to contraception and new rules that allowed young adults to stay on their parents' health plans through age 26.
"Contraceptive coverage without co-pays is important for many women across the U.S.," said NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland's Outreach and Communications Coordinator Amber Banks. "I'm glad he addressed it."
Polls show that many Americans are confused by and wary of the law, the success of which depends on convincing healthy young people to buy insurance.
Those enrollees are expected to balance out the sicker, and more expensive people expected to enroll.
In his address, the president vowed that buying insurance through the new exchanges would be "the cost of your cellphone bill or less." “The result is more choice, more competition, real health care security,” he added.
In an emotional moment, he recalled how his youngest daughter, Sasha's scare with meningitis as an infant fueled his stance on affordable health care. The experience was one of the most frightening moments in life, he said, “but we were fortunate enough to have good health insurance.”
“I remember looking around that emergency room thinking, ‘what about the parents who aren’t that lucky?' … In the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one should go broke just because they get sick," he declared.
Prince George's County dovetailed nicely with the president's message. A predominantly black suburb of Washington, D.C., the county is home to many of the federal workers that would be hurt in a government shutdown.
Moreover, nearly two in 10 residents of the county lack health insurance, making it a prime target for insurance sign-ups.
Maryland democratic lawmakers backing ObamaCare, such as Rep. Steny Hoyer, Rep. Donna Edwards and Sen. Ben Cardin, invited those without insurance to visit HealthCare.gov to enroll into the new state-based health insurance marketplaces.
While walking around the gymnasium, Hoyer told The Hill that the nation was "on the brink of history" with healthcare reform. "We have much to do in order to ensure that the affordable care act works as intended – that it increases access to quality, affordable coverage, and puts families – not insurance companies – in charge of health care decisions," the Democratic whip said.
The energy remained high as Obama conceded there would be some problems as the insurance exchanges ramped up next week.
Already, the District of Columbia has said that those interested in purchasing plans would not be able to immediately see what the price of coverage would be. Other states haven't finalized test work on the Internet portals where applicants can examine coverage.
The Associated Press reported Thursday that other glitches could plague the opening weeks of the exchanges. Small businesses will not be able to initially use the Web portals, instead having to mail or fax in information to enroll in coverage.
And a Spanish-language version of the website won't be ready by the end of the month.
“Like any law, like any big product launch, there’s going to be some glitches as this thing unfolds … somewhere around the country, there’s gonna be a computer glitch and the websites not working exactly like its supposed to," Obama said.
But the president predicted that eventually, critics of the law would “come around” — joking that “once it's working really well, I guarantee you, they will not call it ObamaCare.”