Obama visits White House to defend his healthcare legacy
By Lucia Leal
Washington, Apr 5 (EFE).- Former President Barack Obama on Tuesday visited the White House for the first time since leaving office in 2017 to defend the cornerstone program of his presidency, the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, the major healthcare reform that provides health insurance coverage to tens of millions of people.
More than five years after handing over the presidency to Donald Trump, Obama paid a triumphal visit to the same room in the White House where he signed so many bills during the eight years he served as president, and once again he took the presidential podium to a loud and long ovation from those assembled there to hear his remarks.
Saying that it was good to be back at the White House, the former president wasted no time before cracking a few jokes, referring to current President Joe Biden as “vice president,” the office he had held during Obama’s presidency, although right away he corrected himself, saying “That was a joke,” embracing Biden and calling him “my president.”
He also made those gathered there laugh when he said that things had changed since he left the presidential mansion, including the fact that “there’s a cat running around … (something) I guarantee you Bo and Sunny would have been very unhappy about,” referring to his dogs.
While Obama was holding the attention of his audience, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris stood to the side and smiled, well aware that the Democratic Party needs the ex-president’s popularity to try and prevent dire results for the party’s representation in Congress in the November mid-term elections.
Obama said that Democrats “have a story to tell” in the upcoming campaign and members of the party trust that the ex-president will throw himself into the fray as he did in 2020 to help compensate for Biden’s relatively low popularity, which is hovering around 41 percent, weighed down by the inflation rate and other problems stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden seemed to enjoy Obama’s visit, embracing him several times during his appearance and saying that he felt it was “just like old times.”
Since he left the White House in Trump’s hands, Obama has made clear time and again his concern over the enormous influence that his presidential successor maintains over the Republican Party.
The aim of Obama’s return, however, was to promote his 2010 healthcare reform, which for more than a decade has been the target of severe attacks by the GOP to the point where cases involving Obamacare have gone to the Supreme Court three times.
“Despite great odds, Joe and I were determined (to get Obamacare implemented), because we met too many people on the campaign trail who shared their stories, and our own families had been touched by illness,” Obama said, going on to say that he “intended to get healthcare passed even if it cost me re-election, which (it) looked for a while like it might.”
“The ACA was an example of why you run for office in the first place,” he said. “We are not supposed to do this just to occupy a seat or hang on to power. We are supposed to do this because it is making a difference in the lives of the people who sent us here.”
More than 31 million people currently benefit from one of the medical insurance plans included under Obamacare, which broadened access to healthcare coverage in a country where there is no public healthcare system and half the population receives healthcare coverage through their workplaces.
Obama described that reform as one of his major sources of pride from his years in the White House, recalling that negotiating the deal was difficult and he did not get everything he wanted, but it had an “impact” on millions of lives and thus it is an ongoing public service.
The former president also took pains to give part of the credit for Obamacare to Biden, under whose presidency a record number of Americans have health insurance via the ACA.
Biden later said in his speech that the reform today is “stronger than ever” and announced a plan whereby he expects to get 200,000 more US residents to acquire healthcare coverage for the first time and to ensure that another million or so pay less for their health insurance.
Under that proposal, which will enter into force in 2023, families spending more than 10 percent of their total household income on medical coverage will be able to receive “financial aid” to get low-cost medical insurance via the Obamacare market.
In the back of the White House East Room, where Obama and the president were speaking, a boy named Anthony tried to get Obama’s attention with greetings and applause, along with his father Steve Gomez.
The pair had been invited to the White House from Gilbert, Arizona, and – as Gomez told EFE, Obamacare has been “very important” for them because his son was born with a cardiac problem and had to have a heart transplant when he was just six weeks old.
Anthony has affordable medical insurance thanks to the fact that Obamacare prevented insurance companies from putting up barriers to covering people with preexisting conditions, Gomez added while Obama immersed himself in the crowd in the room, greeting attendees one by one.