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Obama to Republicans: Show me a better plan

Remarks by the President in Vox Live Interview

By Ezra Klein and Sarah Kliff of Vox
The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, January 6, 2017

Excerpts of the President’s comments:

“…the challenge of getting it passed was always the fact that, unlike other advanced countries, we didn’t start with a system in which everybody was covered, and we have a very complicated marketplace, and we have third-party insurers.  And what that meant was that even after we got the law passed anything that dissatisfied people about the health care system could be attributed to -- quote, unquote -- “Obamacare,” even if it had nothing to do with Obamacare.”

***

“…whenever you look at polls that say 40-something percent are supportive of the law and 40-something percent are dissatisfied -- in the dissatisfied column are a whole bunch of Bernie Sanders supporters who wanted a single-payer plan.  (Laughter.)  And so the problem is not that they think Obamacare is a failure; the problem is that they don't think it went far enough and that it left too many people still uncovered, that the subsidies that people were getting weren’t as rich as they should have been, that there’s a way of dealing with prescription drug makers in a way that drives down those costs.”

***

“If it works, I’m for it.  If something can cover all Americans, make sure that if they have a preexisting condition they can still get coverage, make sure that prescription drugs are affordable, encourage preventive measures to keep people healthy, that makes sure that in rural communities people have access to substance abuse care or mental health care, that Medicare and Medicaid continue to function effectively -- if you can do all that cheaper than we talked about, cheaper than Obamacare achieves and with better quality and it’s just terrific, I’m for it.”

***

“In fact, if you look at how this law evolved -- and I’ve said this publicly before, if I was starting from scratch, I probably would have supported a single-payer system because it’s just easier for people to understand and manage.  And that’s essentially what Medicare is, is a single-payer system for people of a certain age.  And people are very satisfied with it and it’s not that complicated to understand or to access services.  But that wasn’t available; we weren’t starting from scratch.”

***

“From the very start, in the earliest negotiations in 2009, 2010, I made clear to Republicans that, if they had ideas that they could show would work better than the ideas that we had thought of, I would be happy to incorporate them into the law.  And rather than offer ideas, what we got was a big no, we just don’t want to do this.”

***

“After the law passed, for the last six, seven years, there has been the argument that we can provide a great replacement that will be much better for everybody than what the Affordable Care Act is providing.  And yet, over the last six, seven years, there has been no actual replacement law that any credible health care policy experts have said would work better.  In fact, many of them would result in millions of people losing coverage and the coverage being worse for those who kept it.

“And so now is the time when Republicans, I think, have to go ahead and show their cards.  If, in fact, they have a program that would genuinely work better and they want to call it whatever they want -- they can call it Trumpcare, they can call it McConnellcare, or Ryancare.  If it actually works, I will be the first one to say, great, you should have told me that back in 2009.  I asked.  (Laughter.)  I suspect that will not happen.”

***

“I am saying to every Republican right now, if you, in fact, can put a plan together that is demonstrably better than what Obamacare is doing, I will publicly support repealing Obamacare and replacing it with your plan.  But I want to see it first.  (Applause.)  I want to see it first.”

***

“This idea that somehow, oh, this is about Obama preserving his legacy -- keep in mind, I'm not the one who named it Obamacare.  (Laughter.)  They were the ones who named it Obamacare, because what they wanted to do was personalize this and feed on antipathy towards me in their party as an organizing tool, as politics. 

“But I don’t have a pride of authorship on this thing.  If they can come up with something better, I'm for it.  But you have to show -- and I would advise every Democrat to be for it -- but you have to show that it's better.  And that's not too much to ask.”

***

“…the answer is the Republicans, yes, will own the problems with the health care system if they choose to repeal something that is providing health insurance to a lot of people, and providing benefits to every American who has health insurance even if they’re getting it through the job, and they haven't shown us what it is that they’re going to do.  Then they do own it.  Because that is irresponsible.  And even members of their own party, even those who are opposed to me, have said that that is an irresponsible thing to do.”

***

“So if you look at the things that people are frustrated about with Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, the big things are the subsidies aren't as high as they’d like and they don't have as many options as they’d like.  And I'm happy to provide both those things.  I'd sign on to a Republican plan that said we're going to give more subsidies to people to make it even cheaper, and we're going to have a public option where there isn't an option. 

“Here’s the problem.  I don't think that's the thing that they want -- (laughter) -- to do.“

***

“And my advice to the President-elect -- in fact, we talked about this when I met with him for an hour and a half right after he got elected -- I said make your team and make the Republican members of Congress come up with things that they can show will actually make this work better for people.  And if they’re convincing, I think you would find that there are a lot of Democrats out there -- including me -- that would be prepared to support it.  But so far, at least, that's not what’s happened.”

***

“Well, look, this is the irony of this whole debate, is the things that people are most dissatisfied with about Obamacare, about the Affordable Care Act, are things that essentially in other countries are solved by more government control, not less.  (Laughter.)  And so Republicans are pointing at these things to stir up dissatisfaction, but when it comes to, all right, what’s the solution for it, their answer is less government regulation and letting folks charge even more and doing whatever they want and letting the marketplace work its will.”

***

“If we want to control prices for consumers more, then the marketplace by itself will not do that.  And the reason is because health care is not exactly like other products.  It's not like buying a flat-screen TV.  If you're sick, or if your kid is sick, most of the time you're not in a position to negotiate right there and then.  You can't walk out of the store and say, well, I'm going to see if I can get a better deal.”

***

“The problem is, is that that's not what's being proposed by Mitch McConnell, the senator from Kentucky.  Instead what he's proposing, I gather, is you're going to repeal the law, then you're going to come up with something, except you will have taken away all the -- the way we pay for the subsidies for working people is we're taxing wealthier folks at a little bit higher.  So he wants to cut those taxes, and that money would be gone right away.  And then he's going to promise you, or those people who you've been signing up, better health care, except there's not going to be any money to pay for it.  And nobody has explained to me yet how that's going to work.”

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“…then at the very least you should be putting pressure on your members of Congress to say, show us exactly what the deal is going to be for us before you take away the deal that we got.”

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“The way this process is going to work, there's this rushed vote that's taking place this week, next week to -- quote, unquote -- "repeal Obamacare."  But really all that is, is it's a resolution that is then instructing these committees in Congress to start actually drafting a law that specifically would say what's being repealed and what's not.  Then, after that, they'd have to make a decision about what's going to replace it and how long is that going to take.  And that stretches the process out further. 

“And so I think, whether you originally supported Obamacare or you didn’t, whether you like me or you don’t, the one thing I would just ask all the American people to do is adopt the slogan of the great state of Missouri -- "Show me."  (Laughter.)  Show me.  Do not rush this process. 

“And to Republicans, I would say:  What are you scared of?  If you are absolutely convinced, as you have been adamant about for the last seven years, that you can come up with something better, go ahead and come up with it.  And I'll even cut you some slack for the fact that you've been saying you can come up with something better for seven years and I've never seen it.  (Laughter.)  But we'll restart the clock.”

***

Video (1 hour, 9 minutes):
https://www.whitehouse.gov...

Transcript:
https://www.whitehouse.gov...

***

Comment:

By Don McCanne, M.D.

What is the point of today’s message? Virtually everyone wants affordable access to health care, for themselves at least. Most want a better system than what we have under the Affordable Care Act. But the nation is divided as to whether ACA needs to be repealed prior to improving the functioning of our health care financing system.

So the point is that there is broad agreement that we want the system improved, but the Republicans, who are in control, are hamstrung by their anti-government ideology which prevents them from offering the government solutions that we would need that would actually be effective in improving the system.

Repealing ACA would further impair the functioning of our system, so the Republicans would have to introduce effective policies that would more than compensate for the deficiencies that would be created by repeal. Almost any piecemeal solution would require greater regulation and more government spending, anathema to the Republicans. Suggestions to date coming from their camp would leave us worse off than what we currently have. It is no wonder that they refuse to tell us what their replacement proposal would be.

If they really do want to improve the system, and they say they do, then they have two choices. Either provide beneficial tweaks to the current system, which will cost more and require greater regulation, yet fall far short of reform goals, or replace the current system with a single payer national health program - an improved Medicare for all. The latter would greatly improve the financing of health care, ensuring true universality, improved access, greater choice in care, and affordability for each and every individual. And we could do that without increasing spending above our current level.

The Republicans have an opportunity to provide us with a replacement program that would be vastly superior to building on our current dysfunctional system. Both President Obama and President-elect Trump have acknowledged the clear superiority of a single payer system. Most progressives, a majority of moderates and a plurality of conservatives agree. Now all the Republicans need to do is show us.