The result, Obama said Tuesday evening, is that the law is mired in partisan politics in state legislatures and Congress.
“Normally this would be pretty straightforward. A lot of people don't have health insurance, a lot of people realize they should get health insurance,” he said. “But, let's face it, it's been a little political, this whole Obamacare thing.”
The president sat for a conversation about the law with former President Bill Clinton, part of an annual meeting of policymakers and philanthropists hosted by the Clinton Global Initiative in New York.
As he spoke, Sen. Ted Cruz, a tea party Republican from Texas, was staging a filibuster at the Capitol to try to strip funding for the nearly 4-year-old law, an effort that threatened to shut down the federal government. It also divided the GOP over tactics.
The president called the effort “unprecedented” and said opponents “have been trying to scare and discourage people from getting a good deal.”
Starting Oct. 1, uninsured Americans will be able to buy health coverage on new insurance exchanges, marketplaces that offer high-quality insurance for “less than the cost of your cellphone bill,” Obama said. The White House has said the exchanges will offer insurance plans for as little as $100 a month per person.
One week away from the beginning of a make-or-break phase of the law, the chat between Obama and Clinton was staged as a casual discussion, an explainer, on how the law works and how to sell it. The men, both known as top-flight communicators, sat in overstuffed arm chairs, held microphones and, despite themselves, showed how hard the sale could be.
Their conversation explored the wonky policy of healthcare financing, fiscal policy and insurance pools. The president used phrases including “adverse selection,” “structural deficit” and “cost curve.”
Clinton, at one point, steered the president back to the topic at hand: “So explain what kind -- all the work you've been doing on the outreach when we -- for the opening on October,” he said.
Obama was sharper when talking about the politics of the law. Opponents believe Americans will like the law once it takes effect, he said. Although he did not name Cruz, he said opponents believe if “consumers get hooked on having health insurance and subsidies, then they won't want to give it up.”
“Essentially, they're saying, people will like this thing too much, and then it will be really hard to -- hard to roll back,” Obama said.
The White House has made similar arguments over the years when asked about polling that shows opposition to the law. A Gallup survey in late August found 44% of U.S. adults say that the law will make the healthcare situation in the U.S. worse, while 35% say the law will make it better.
Obama's explanation: “The devil you know is always better than the devil you don't know,” he said. “And -- and there's been billions of dollars spent making people scared and worried about this stuff, and rather than try to disabuse people of every single bit of misinformation that's been out there, what we're saying is, just look for yourself.”
“I completely agree with that," Clinton said. "I think we've got to just drive people to the websites.”
The White House has enlisted the former president to help sell Obama’s legacy-making law as speculation swirls about Hillary Rodham Clinton’s future political career. The former secretary of State introduced the presidents Tuesday, noting their similarities: They both are left-handed, they have “fabulous daughters,” they love golf.
And, she joked, “They each married far above themselves.”