If the Obama administration was hoping former President Bill Clinton's speech in Arkansas Wednesday touting the virtues of the Affordable Care Act would turn public opinion in favor of the unpopular measure, they better go back to the drawing board.
Clinton, serving as what President Barack Obama has jokingly called the "Secretary of Explaining Things," offered a dry, fact-filled analysis of what the 2010 law has already accomplished and aims to in the future. But his oration lacked much of the charisma Clinton is known for, and won't likely resonate with the majority of Americans who say they don't like the law.
"We'll all be a lot better off whether we supported or opposed the health care reform law, whether we like it or don't… working together to make it work as well as possible, to identify the problems and to fix them, instead of replaying the same old battle," Clinton said.
The former president listed statistic after statistic about the current U.S. health care system, one he tried unsuccessfully to change during his presidency, comparing it unfavorably to other countries. Prior to Obamacare, just 84 percent of people were insured and the country was spending 17.9 percent of GDP, the equivalent of $2.5 trillion, on health care, Clinton said.
"Other countries cover everyone and do it at far less a cost," he said, adding that Japan spends just 9 percent of GDP on health care. Other European countries, which cover everyone, spend up to 12 percent of GDP.
"The difference between 17.9 and 12 is $1 trillion a year," Clinton said. "$1 trillion is a lot to spot our competitors in a highly competitive global economy."
It would be one thing if America was getting $1 trillion worth of improved health outcomes over other countries, he said, but that's not the case.
"We rank first by a country mile in the percentage of our income spent in health care and no better than – in all the surveys – 25th to 33rd among all nations in our health outcomes," Clinton said.
Thanks to Obamacare, annual health care cost increases are shrinking, he argued.
"The national increase in health care spending [since the law passed] is hovering around 4 percent – that's the smallest increase in 50 years," Clinton said. "There is something going on here."
But the most effective argument from Clinton was when he told his audience to confront the reality of the law.
"The problems with the law – and there are some – you can't change a complex eco-structure like American health care this much without creating some problems," he said. "So there are some. But they can best be solved if we all work together to fix them."
Clinton cited a specific provision – tax exemptions for small businesses now required to offer health plans to employees – as an example.
"I believe that the current tax credit is too low," he said. "If you read the fine print, there are relatively few eligible for the full tax credit. What I think the Congress ought to do is to come in and basically make this tax credit available for more firms and more employees."
His message, ultimately, was for people who don't like the law to get over it. But that's been the Obama administration's position – perhaps in not so many words – since the law was deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court in 2012. And it hasn't worked so far.
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