WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Amid delays and a barrage of political criticism of his signature healthcare law, President Barack Obama will play pitchman for the plan on Thursday as a critical enrollment date draws near.
Obama is due give a speech at the White House highlighting how the plan has already benefited the public by lowering insurance costs and will do so in the future, senior administration officials said. He will be accompanied at the event by people who have seen their health insurances costs drop, the officials said.
“What we are beginning to see as we get closer to the open enrollment period beginning … is that the abstraction is evaporating,” one official said. “It’s going away because the facts are being translated to benefits for real people.”
The president is taking to the soapbox just weeks after having to delay a requirement for businesses to offer health coverage in 2014, or pay a fine, because the administration had yet to issue final regulations in time for employers to comply.
Days after that July 2 announcement, the administration said it would delay and loosen requirements for new state online insurance marketplaces to verify the income and health coverage status of people who apply for subsidized coverage.
Congressional Republicans, who have repeatedly sought to repeal the health law, pounced on those delays, urging Obama to also put off requirements that individuals obtain health insurance.
“To say that, ‘well, we’re going to, we’re going to relax this mandate for a year on American business, but we’re going to continue to stick it to individuals and families’ is strictly, and simply, unfair to the American people,” House Speaker John Boehner said on Wednesday.
Administration officials have struggled with the task of launching the new online health insurance exchanges at the heart of the law, sometimes called Obamacare, by an October 1 deadline. Their efforts to implement the law have been hampered by limited staff and financial resources, as well as by steady opposition from congressional Republicans.
Obama is expected to use his speech to spotlight an element of the law, formally called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which will be responsible for sending refund checks to some 8.5 million people as a result of lower insurance costs, officials told reporters on a conference call.
U.S. insurers will pay $500 million in rebates to employers and individuals because the law requires companies to pay refunds customers if they spend less than 80 percent of the premiums they collect on medical care, the administration said last month. That will mean an average rebate of $100 per family for about 8.5 million insurance customers, the government said.
The president will also tout lower-than-expected insurance rates in New York and a Department of Health and Human Services report concluding that cheaper insurance rates are likely to be the norm rather than the exception in 11 states.
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Tuesday that New York state residents were likely to see their health insurance premiums cut in half as Obamacare draws people into health insurance markets. California said in May that rates would fall as much as 29 percent.
The HHS report will show that the costs of plans will be lower than originally anticipated. For example, in the 11 states covered in the study, the lowest-cost plan in the individual market in 2014 is on average 18 percent less expensive than previous government and congressional estimates, the administration said.
Similarly, the cost of the cheapest plan available to small employers in six states studied by the government is expected to be 18 percent lower than they would have paid for a similar plan before the law was enacted, officials said.
Some of the lower rates may be offered before the insurance marketplaces are opened in the fall, the administration said.
“While further work is needed to better understand 2014 rates, the results suggest that greater competition and transparency are leading to substantial benefits for both consumers and employers in these markets,” the administration said in a fact sheet.
Obama is hoping to piggyback aboard the positive developments to support a critical component of the law: getting healthy young adults to register for health insurance plans to counterbalance older, sicker enrollees and hold down costs.
Administration officials hope to sign up 7 million people nationwide during an enrollment period that begins on October 1 and runs until the end of March. They say they are zeroing in on an estimated 2.7 million healthy adults aged 18 to 25.
Republicans say the law will raise the costs of healthcare for all Americans, trigger an avalanche of new regulatory burdens on businesses, and inhibit hiring. The delays have given Republicans ammunition to argue that the law was a bad idea in the first place and could help in campaigns against Democrats in next year’s congressional elections and beyond.