In Defense Of Health Care Law, Obama Cites Mass. Success

President Obama spoke at Faneuil Hall about the federal health care law. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

President Obama spoke at Faneuil Hall Wednesday about the federal health care law. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

BOSTON — President Obama’s visit to Boston Wednesday was a carefully orchestrated effort to revive momentum for the Affordable Care Act. The president took the stage at Faneuil Hall, the same place where former Gov. Mitt Romney signed the Massachusetts health coverage law in 2006.

Romney was not invited. Instead, Faneuil Hall was packed with hand-picked supporters of Obamacare. The president congratulated those who supported the 2006 law for making Massachusetts the state with the lowest rate of uninsured people in the country.

“And it’s because you guys had a proven model that we built the Affordable Care Act on this template of proven bipartisan success,” Obama said. “Your law was the model for the nation’s law.”

But rolling out the model nationwide has been rocky. Some governors are refusing to participate. The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to repeal the national law again and again. And the federal website, where Americans are supposed to be able to shop for insurance, is a mess.

“There’s no denying it,” the president said, “right now the website is too slow. Too many people have gotten stuck and I am not happy about it. And neither are a lot of Americans who need health care. And they’re trying to figure out how they can sign up as quickly as possible. So there’s no excuse for it. And I take full responsibility for making sure it gets fixed ASAP.”

Obama looked to Massachusetts for relief. He pointed out that few Bay Staters signed up for coverage in the early months, suggesting that if federal website problems are corrected by the time enrollment increases, it won’t be so bad.

But new hurdles keep popping up. The president is under fire for promising on the campaign trail that Americans who had coverage they liked would not have to change. Now Obama is acknowledging that, in fact, many Americans won’t be able to renew very high-deductible plans or other coverage that he called substandard. His answer? Shop around.

“Because of the tax credits that we’re offering and the competition between insurers, most people are going to be able to get better, comprehensive health care plans for the same price, or even cheaper than was projected,” he said.

The criticism that the president broke a promise will likely continue, and there will be new problems. Health care is complicated, Obama said, and trying to fix a broken system is difficult.

“It’s hard but it’s worth it. It is the right thing to do and we’re going to move forward,” Obama said. “We are going to keep working to improve the law just like you did here in Massachusetts.”

But Massachusetts had something the Affordable Care Act does not: unified support. That unity is something many states can’t replicate, or at least that’s been the perception. Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO Andrew Dreyfus said that perception isn’t quite right.

“People underestimate how much political differences there were and how much there still are,” Dreyfus said of the Massachusetts law. “Many interests set aside some of their ideological concerns in exchange for the larger good. So the question is, can the nation do that?”

Across the street from Faneuil Hall, Taso Pesirides and his brother recently opened a UBurger franchise. Pesirides hasn’t gotten around to signing up for health insurance, but when he’s ready he knows what to do.

“I should be able to get approved through the Mass. Health Connector,” said Pesirides, who received insurance through the Connector at his last job.

He is not following the national health care debate but said he is “happy with what’s going on here. They should push forward with it, to give people health coverage. A lot of people don’t have it and that’s not good.”

And that’s why President Obama came to Massachusetts. To prove that a guy trying to start a small business can be confident he will be able to sign up for affordable health insurance when he gets around to making the call. It’s a lesson based on experience, experience that Obama hopes Massachusetts will inspire other states to create.

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  • Mary Lincoln

    The Massachusetts website may have gotten off to a slow start but by 2009 when I first needed to buy a policy for myself it worked really well. All I had to do was enter my age, gender and zip code and up popped all the various plans I could buy, with prices. Actually making the purchase was just as seamless and simple. Reading about the problems in other states I felt so lucky I was in Mass and didn’t have to worry about a thing. WRONG! I have just gotten a notice that I have to buy a new policy. My son’s Young Adult Policy was also cancelled. So now I have been to the new website and it is absolutely terrible!

    WBUR, please cover this story. Look on the Health Connector Facebook page to get an idea of the problems people are having.

    Why did we have to abandon a website that worked really well and replace it with crap? I am all for the ACA and for “Romneycare,” I am just appalled at how bad the new website is.

    • mumtothree

      Mary, you’re absolutely right. The new mahealthconnector.org site is full of bugs and dead ends. I applied more than 5 weeks ago and it still tells me I will be contacted (to see whether I qualify for a premium tax credit or fall off the Obamacare cliff), “in a few weeks.” “Shop for Plans” takes you nowhere.

      Also, supposedly I had a grandfathered plan, purchased from the Connector continuously since 1/1/2010. And it’s been cancelled. By the Connector. So much for keeping insurance if you like it.

  • Grand

    what success? been trying for a yr to get coverage in mass and no luck. The website is no help and you cannot get through on the phone.

  • fun bobby

    did you know in MA IVF is covered? no wonder our rates are so high. will obamacare impose the same requirement nationally so people stop coming here for us to foot the bill for their unnecessary medical procedures?

    • http://byrondennis.typepad.com/theabcsofmedicare/ Dennis Byron

      Fun Bobby

      Yes, as an early victim of Romneycare back in 2009 I found out that was the case even though I was a 63-year-old male. However — because I always want to get my money’s worth — I went ahead and had one. (Of course, I had to have a vitro transplant first; RomneyCare paid for that too.)

      • fun bobby

        its no surprise in a state where prisoners get free sex changes

  • Dan Mac Gilvray

    MA health insurance for state workers went up and deductibles were increase with Romney Care

  • http://byrondennis.typepad.com/theabcsofmedicare/ Dennis Byron

    In order of Presidential deception but not necessarily importance:

    1. “He (President Obama) pointed out that few Bay Staters signed up for coverage in the early months..”

    Because they didn’t have to either because they were auto-enrolled (more than 50%) and/or were not worried about the penalty which would not hit for another year and a half, That is not the case now: the 100,000 or so Massachusetts residents (poor Mr. Pesirsides) being kicked off Commonwealth Care III need to sign up in the next 6 weeks or lose coverage January 1 and the same is true across the country for the millions of people the government estimates have already lost or will lose their insurance this fall.

    2. “Now Obama is acknowledging that, in fact, many Americans won’t be able to renew very high deductible plans or other coverage that he called substandard.”

    The issue is not high deductibility of current plans. (In fact, at least in Mass. and I am told all over the country, Obamacare insurance “features” much higher deductibles than current insurance — see Paul Levy blog post this week). The issue is having to insure yourself for things you will never have to use and having to pay insurance premiums rated for old people when you are young. I hardly think the far left wing Kaiser insurance company of California is selling substandard insurance today.

    3. “Because of the tax credits that we’re offering and the competition between insurers, most people are going to be able to get better, comprehensive health care plans for the same price, or even cheaper…”

    That’s not the case for a guy making $30K in Massachusetts. Compare a CC III plan’s benefits with — e.g. – the Neighborhood Health Obamacare plan that costs the same after the tax credit (I based my calculation on the NPR tax credit calculator because — of course — healthcare.gov was down).

    4. And most important deception

    “We are going to keep working to improve the law just like you did here in Massachusetts.”

    The 2006 law was so great that after trying to fix it in 2008 and twice in 2010 we effectively repealed it in 2012, replacing its market orientation (something the president mentioned multiple times ) with Soviet-era price controls.

    (It’s interesting that you interviewed the Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO. He didn’t participate in RomneyCare. There’s no money to be made in helping the poor schmuck like Mr. Persides. He sells his overprice insurance to Paul Levy.)

  • Kittyhawk

    “Cites” is spelled “sites” on WBUR’s home page.

  • X-Ray

    Pointing to the Massachusetts experience in health care implementation (aka Romneycare) to the ACA (aka Obamacare) really isn’t justified. The law in MA in puny compared to the multi-thousand page law passed by the Federal government. In fact, the Federal scheme is so complicated, involved and convoluted that no one understands it entirely or it’s consequences, and certainly not the President. Obama made the statement that people who like the existing health plan, they could keep it. Wrong, Many of the existing plan do not meet the ACA standards and so have to be withdrawn. Further, there are many reports that plans are only available at greatly increased costs, some with outrageous increases.

    • Anonymous Coward

      It’s also a much larger scope, covering an entire nation rather than a small bay state.

      • X-Ray

        And the Obama Administration had 3-1/2 years to do it and botched it.