President Barack Obama sought during his State of the Union address Tuesday night to link his 4-year-old health care reform law to his broader agenda to address widening income inequality and promote financial security.
The speech comes nearly four months into the rollout of the Affordable Care Act's health insurance exchanges, whose botched start bruised both the president and his namesake reforms. The technological failings of HealthCare.gov, the federal portal to insurance in 36 states, and of several state-run marketplaces combined with a firestorm over millions of Americans' insurance policies being canceled because they didn't meet the law's new standards forced Obama to apologize to the American people on more than one occasion and harmed the law's already poor public perception. Although the federal website is much improved and more than 3 million people already have signed up for private health insurance through the marketplaces, Obamacare remains on unsteady ground in the near term.
During his address, Obama focused instead on the benefits of the law that already have taken effect, and their potential to protect Americans from crippling medical expenses. He likened the health care law to proposals he made on subjects including raising the minimum wage, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and boosting retirement savings.
"For decades, few things exposed hard-working families to economic hardship more than a broken health care system. And in case you haven’t heard, we’re in the process of fixing that," Obama said. "That’s what health insurance reform is all about: the peace of mind that if misfortune strikes, you don’t have to lose everything," he said, citing Amanda Shelley of Gilbert, Ariz., a guest of first lady Michelle Obama, whose pre-existing condition locked her out of the health insurance market until the Affordable Care Act took effect.
Obama also highlighted the contributions of Democratic Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, another guest of the first lady, whose handling of his state's health insurance exchange and expansion of Medicaid to more poor residents has made him a leading figure in the health care reform effort. "Kentucky’s not the most liberal part of the country. That's not where I got my highest vote totals. But he’s like a man possessed when it comes to covering his commonwealth’s families," Obama said.
Acknowledging the staunch and relentless opposition of congressional Republicans to the Affordable Care Act and their repeated attempts to undo the law, Obama returned to a common refrain: enough.
"The American people aren’t interested in refighting old battles," Obama said. "Let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans like Amanda. The first 40 were plenty."