Obama praises Affordable Care Act for moral, economic successes

BY Elisabeth Ponsot  January 28, 2014 at 9:51 PM EST

President Obama Delivers State Of The Union Address At U.S. Capitol

Video still by PBS NewsHour

On Tuesday evening, President Barack Obama used his State of the Union speech to make an economic and moral argument for what he said are the Affordable Care Act’s tangible successes.

“For decades, few things exposed hard-working families to economic hardship more than a broken health care system,” he said. “And in case you haven’t heard, we’re in the process of fixing that.”

As a result of federal health care reform, Mr. Obama said, health insurance providers can no longer deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. Women can no longer be charged higher premiums for the same benefits.

In a nod toward younger voters, he noted that more than three million Americans under age 26 have gained health insurance under their parents’ policies.

“That’s what health insurance reform is all about — the peace of mind that if misfortune strikes, you don’t have to lose everything,” he said.

The Obama administration’s implementation of key parts of the health care reform law has dramatically reformed health care in the U.S., but not without difficulties.

On Oct. 1, the insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act, a defining piece of legislation for Barack Obama’s presidency, officially opened for business.

The federal health insurance marketplace faced technical challenges following the launch of HealthCare.gov in October. Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The rollout of the exchanges, which had already overcome significant legal challenges in 2012, immediately hit roadblocks — from technical problems that plagued the HealthCare.gov’s launch to recent efforts by the GOP to spotlight potential security issues with the system.

Despite the technical woes, from October through Dec. 28, nearly 1.2 million people signed up for health insurance plans in the federal marketplace, and nearly one million selected plans in state exchanges.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius tweeted Friday that the number of enrollees was at nearly three million.

New data suggests that a majority of these health exchange enrollees were previously insured, raising questions about whether the ACA is successfully reducing the number of uninsured Americans.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll shows American voters are dissatisfied with the state of the nation’s health care, giving Mr. Obama an overall negative approval rating for his handling of the issue, 59 to 36 percent.

Given the rocky rollout of HealthCare.gov and lackluster approval numbers, Mr. Obama and his team have tried to regain control of the national dialogue surrounding health care and point out the positives of reform.

In December, an administration official shared with PBS NewsHour that the president would be working hard to “focus attention back on the core principles of reform that have been lost in the attention on the website.”

It’s likely Mr. Obama will continue this same strategy tonight in his State of the Union address.

How has the Affordable Care Act affected you? PBS NewsHour’s reporting team gathered personal stories from people impacted by the sweeping changes and collected perspectives from health care experts.