Audience members listen as President Barack Obama speaks about the Affordable Care Act on Sept. 26, 2013 at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Md.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Obama defends health care law–and delays it


Updated 12:12 p.m.

As President Barack Obama gave one of his best defenses of his signature health care law Thursday morning, news broke that his administration plans to again postpone a piece of the rollout slated for Oct. 1.

Small businesses will have an extra month to begin enrollment in the new health care exchanges, according to Reuters. The Obama administration had previously delayed several components of the law including a rule that stipulates businesses with more than 50 employees must provide insurance and a special insurance exchange designed for small businesses.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius defended the White House’s decision, arguing that insurance policies will still take effect on track even though the sign-up date has been delayed.

“Insurance never starts until Jan. 1 for individuals or for small-business owners. It was always a lead time to get coverage,” Sebelius said on MSNBC.

The juxtaposition couldn’t be more ironic: liberals have been waiting for Obama to make the kind of full-throated case for the law that he did Thursday. And Republicans are sure to pounce on the news that a piece of the law is being postponed. Conservatives in Congress have been pushing for a year-long delay of the entire law, citing computer glitches and other problems.

The White House has repeatedly given extensions and exceptions to states and businesses that requested more time to fully embrace the law.

Even so, Obama said ultimately the law will work, once it gets going.

“Once it’s working really well I guarantee you they will not call it Obamacare,” he said from Prince George’s Community College in Maryland.

The White House had been criticized this summer by not only Republicans, but fellow Democrats who argued Obama should do more on the law’s rollout.

Sen. Barbara Boxer of California said immediately after Obama’s speech Thursday it was the case she was waiting to hear.

“I just feel that the president today really had the energy that we need at this point to make sure everyone understands,” the Democrat senator said on MSNBC Thursday.

During the speech, Obama said health coverage is “a right,” not a privilege, liberal rhetoric that the president has often avoided when talking about the health care law.

“In the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one should go broke just because they get sick,” he said. “In the United States of America, health care is not a privilege for the fortunate few, it is a right.”

People can sign up for insurance in new online marketplaces beginning Oct. 1 and lasting until March 31, 2014. A small fine applies to those who don’t comply with the law. “Tell your friends, tell your family,” Obama said as he urged the public to enroll.

Obama discussed the benefits of the law from expanded coverage to cheaper options, including the opportunity the bill allows for users to comparison-shop among plans, while allowing that there would be some “glitches” in its rollout. His goal is to cover the 15% of Americans who live without health insurance. He began his remarks shortly before 11 a.m. from Prince George’s Community College in Maryland.

Individual insurance premiums are projected to be lower for 95% of Americans, according to a report released Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services. The costs are expected to be an average of $328 per month, but will vary by state, family size, and annual income.

GOP leaders have pushed for Congress to defund Obamacare, but the Supreme Court voted last year to uphold the law.

Some Republican leaders, including Mike Lee of of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas, recently threatened a government shutdown over the health care law. The Republican-led House last week passed a stop-gap spending bill that will fund the government through Dec. 15, but also stripped funding from the Obama administration’s health care law. The Democrat-controlled Senate is expected to reject that proposal–despite a Sen. Cruz 21-hour fake filibuster–and the White House has said it would veto anything that threatens the health care law.

“We are going to see it through,” Obama said Thursday despite a GOP attempt to put up “every conceivable roadblock.”

“The Affordable Care Act is here.”

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Obama defends health care law--and delays it