President Obama and former President Bill Clinton appeared together at a session sponsored by the Clinton Global Initiative Tuesday afternoon to discuss the benefits of the Affordable Care Act before the enrollment period begins next week.
Americans continue to be skeptical about the law and recent polls found that a majority disapproves of it. In addition, it's at the center of a budget battle between congressional lawmakers that could shut down the government on Oct. 1.
In a setting reminiscent of a daytime TV talk show, Clinton began the discussion by asking Obama why in the midst of the economic crisis in 2009 he took on the complex issue of health care reform.
"Health care is a massive part of our economy," the president replied. "The idea that somehow we can separate the two is a fallacy."
He added that the U.S. has until recently been the only advanced, industrialized nation to permit large numbers of its population to "languish without health insurance." Obama said that the nation's current and projected long-term deficits are primarily due to its "hugely inefficient, wildly expensive health care system" that forces people unable to access coverage to use the emergency room for medical services.
If the U.S. spent the same amount of money on health care that other nations do with the same or better outcomes, Obama said, it would eliminate the structural deficit, freeing up funding for early childhood education, infrastructure, medical research and other investments to ensure the nation's long-term growth and competitiveness.
He acknowledged the American public's unpopular views of the law, saying that "the devil you know is always better than the devil you don't know," but expressed confidence that they will come around.
He touted components of the law already in place, such as allowing young adults to remain on their parents' plans until age 26; free preventive care and contraceptive services; prohibiting insurers from imposing lifetime caps on coverage or refusing to cover people with pre-existing conditions; and other benefits.
The presidents also discussed Republican resistance to Obamacare on Capitol Hill. Obama said it's ironic that they want to defund the bill because it costs too much because repealing it would raise the nation's deficit. The bottom line, he said, is whether the U.S. wants to be the sort of nation with "the most inefficient health care system on Earth," where millions of people risk losing everything if they get sick.
"Is that the kind of society we aspire to? I think the answer is no," Obama said. "And the notion that we would resist, or at least some would resist as fiercely as they would — as they have made this their number-one agenda — is perpetuating a system in which millions of people across the country, hardworking Americans, don't have access to health care, I think is — is wrong."
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(Photo: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)