Five days before public health care exchanges begin accepting applicants nationwide, President Barack Obama took on a celebratory tone as he lobbied uninsured Americans to sign up for affordable health insurance.
“We are now only five days from finishing the job,” Obama said triumphantly in a campaign-style speech hyping the Affordable Care Act at Prince George’s Community College just outside Washington. With the most visible portion of the law, the individual mandate, kicking in on January 1 and the federally sponsored exchanges opening next week, Obama appeared unfazed by a wave of hiccups in its implementation.
Mocking Republicans for their escalating rhetoric on how dire the health care law will prove to be, Obama said one Republican’s assertion that it was the worst law in the nation’s history is an awfully tall order. “You had a state representative somewhere say that it’s as destructive to personal and individual liberty as the Fugitive Slave Act,” the president said as the audience booed. “Think about that. Affordable health care is worse than a law that lets slaveowners get their runaway slaves back.”
Obama accused Republicans of being scared the law will work, summarizing the Republican position as, “We’ve got to shut this thing down before people realize they like it.” And if it succeeds, “it will mean everything they said wasn’t true and they were just playing politics,’ he said.
Running though a long list of benefits and coverage changes in the law, Obama criticized Republicans for trying to defund Obamacare as a condition of keeping the government running.
“The closer we’ve gotten to this date, the more irresponsible folks who are opposed to this law have become,” Obama said, lambasting those in Congress who are pushing the defund effort. “That’s not going to happen as long as I am president,” he added. “The Affordable Care Act is here to stay,” he said.
But Obama also cautioned that the law’s implementation will not likely be smooth. “Like any law, like any big product launch, there are going to be some glitches as this unfolds,” Obama said. “Somewhere around the country, there’s going to be a computer glitch and the website’s not working quite the way it’s supposed to, or something happens where there’s some error made somewhere—that will happen.”
Indeed, just as the event was wrapping up, the administration announced it was delaying a narrow section of the law. Small businesses looking to enroll in federal insurance exchanges won’t be able to fill out online applications on Oct. 1, when the rest of the program rolls out. The will be able to do so only on paper. And the Associated Press reported Thursday that the Spanish-language version of the Obamacare enrollment website, healthcare.gov, would not be ready on Tuesday, Oct. 1.
Yet a smiling president quipped that he is confident that in a few years, when the law is fully implemented, that Republicans will come around to embrace the law and say they—falsely—that they voted for it. “You watch, it will not be called Obamacare,” he said, chuckling. Comparing it to Medicare, Obama said, “One Republican warned that one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free. That was Ronald Reagan. And eventually Ronald Reagan came around to Medicare and thought it was pretty good and actually helped make it better.”
Capping the event, Obama walked off stage to shake hands, to music by his reelection muse, Bruce Springsteen.
–with reporting by Kate Pickert/New York
MORE: Watch here to see highlights from Obama’s speech: