President Obama doggedly defended his health-care law Wednesday, blaming insurance companies and their "bad apple" plans for booting people off insurance rolls.
Obama stumped for years on the line that Americans could keep their insurance, if they like it. But he came under fire when news broke last week that hundreds of thousands of people were notifed their plans were cancelled.
"For the fewer than 5 percent of Americans who buy insurance on your own, you will be getting a better deal," Obama said.
He struck a defiant tone at the speech in Boston, saying the "bad apple" plans being dropped don't meet the Affordable Care Act's standards, and that customers can now access better coverage through the exchanges.
The president was speaking at Faneuil Hall, where, in 2006, Mitt Romney, then the governor of Massachusetts, signed a health-care bill into law for his state. That measure served as a key model for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). And Obama argued Wednesday that the success of Romney's law suggests that the initial problems with the ACA are likely to be overcome.
"I am confident these marketplaces will work, because Massachusetts has shown that the model works," Obama said.
As he has before, Obama expressed frustration over the technical glitches that also have plagued the law's rollout. The government website that was set up to allow Americans to access the insurance exchanges has functioned only sporadically since opening for business October 1.
"Right now, the website is too slow, too many people have gotten stuck, and I am not happy about it," he said. "I take full responsibility for making sure it gets fixed asap. We are working overtime to improve it every day."
The speech will do little to stem Republican criticism of the law and its unveiling. In a statement issued Tuesday night, Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner, called Obamacare “a trainwreck,” adding: “A law that was delivered through a pack of fictitious promises can’t be saved by another misleading speech.”
The administration has pledged to have the website working by December. But it could face a more serious problem if the botched rollout leads large numbers of younger and healthier Americans not to sign up for coverage, despite the mandate. That could threaten the long-term viability of the ACA as a whole.
The president spoke hours after his secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, apologized to a congressional committee for what she called the “debacle” of the healthcare law’s rollout.
“I’m accountable to you for fixing these problems,” Sebelius said. Asked whether Obama was ultimately responsible, Sebelius at first responded “whatever,” before adding: “Yes he is the president. Yes he is responsible for government programs.”
Members of Congress from both parties have called for Sebelius to step down. The White House said Wednesday it had “complete confidence” in the HHS chief.