Obama Says His Departure Can Fix What Ails Obamacare

© Reuters. Obama visits Miami to speak about the Affordable Care Act

By Roberta Rampton

MIAMI (Reuters) – President Barack Obama said Thursday that his departure from office in January could be what is needed to begin to heal the political scars on Obamacare and allow necessary corrections to his signature on the health care bill.

The Affordable Care Act of 2010 sparked a long and bitter political and legal battle between the White House and Republicans in the United States Congress who said the 2010 law creates unwarranted government intervention in the personal healthcare and private industry.

Republicans have been quick to highlight a recent barrage of negative headlines about increasing health insurance premiums and shrinking doctor networks for people participating in the subsidized insurance plans offered by the law.

Obama acknowledged that the law is not working perfectly, but said problems could be fixed with legislation, encouraging lawmakers to create a government-run health insurance option to help states in the United States where there is little or no no competition between private insurers.

“Maybe now that I’m leaving office, maybe Republicans can stop with the 60-something recall votes they’ve taken and stop pretending they have a serious alternative … and just work with the next president to smooth things over, “he said in a speech at Miami Dade College.

“They can even change the name of the law to Reagancare, or Paul Ryan care,” Obama said, evoking the name of the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives. “I don’t care. I just want it to work.”

But Ryan, in a written response, said he would continue to seek to repeal and replace the law. “At this point, one thing is clear: this law cannot be fixed,” Ryan said.

Later, Obama was scheduled to lead a rally in Florida, an electoral battlefield state, for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate in the November 8 presidential election. Clinton has said she would add a public option and expand tax incentives for health care costs. Republican candidate Donald Trump has vowed to repeal and replace the law.

The government forecasts that 13.8 million people will enroll in Obamacare plans in 2017, 1.1 million more than in 2016.

There are 10.7 million uninsured people who are eligible for the exchanges but have not signed up, and about 40 percent of them are young, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said Wednesday.

Obama said that across the country, not enough young, healthy people have signed up to provide an income stream that outweighs the costs of covering members with serious illnesses.

As a result, several large insurers, including UnitedHealth Group Inc (N :), Aetna Inc (N :), and Humana Inc (N :), are pulling out of online marketplaces selling the subsidized plans, citing financial investments greater than expected losses.

Monthly premium prices have gone up, further discouraging some people from signing up.

“Next year will tell if those are growing pains or if they are more serious problems,” said Drew Altman, executive director of the Kaiser Family Foundation, in an interview.

Analysis by the nonpartisan foundation suggests that at least 16 million people must enroll before Obamacare’s online insurance marketplaces stabilize.

Obama said expanding insurance coverage for millions of people and reforming the healthcare system was a key reason he ran for office. He said he receives letters from Americans every day thanking him for the difference he has made in their lives.

The law reduced the number of Americans without health insurance from 49 million in 2010 to 29 million in 2015.

Much of the decline is due to the provision of the law that allows states to expand Medicaid health coverage for the poor.

The law also prohibited insurance companies from denying coverage to Americans for existing medical problems and allowed parents to keep their children insured in their health plans until age 26.

Some health policy experts on both the political left and the right say Congress may be more receptive to bipartisan efforts to fix the Affordable Care Act after Obama leaves office. Some Republican governors who refused to expand Medicaid may also be more willing to do so after the election, a change that would expand coverage to approximately 4 million people.

“I think the part of Obamacare that people don’t like is Obama,” Kathleen Sebelius, former Obama Secretary of Health and Human Services, who oversaw the launch of the program, said in an interview. “This has become a very personal battle over this president, which I think is really regrettable.”