The 42nd President went off script in describing the signature achievement of the 44th President. Read his remarks, in their entirety:
The next thing is, we’ve got to figure out what to do now about healthcare. Her opponent says just repeal it all, the market will take care of it. That didn’t work out very well for us did it? On the other hand, the current system works fine if you’re eligible for Medicaid if you’re a lower income working person, if you’re already on Medicare, or if you get enough subsidies on a modest income that you can afford your healthcare. But the people who are getting killed in this deal are the small businesspeople and individuals who make just a little too much to get in on these subsidies. Why? Because they’re not organized, they don’t have any bargaining power with insurance companies, and they’re getting whacked. So you’ve got this crazy system where all of a sudden 25 million more people have healthcare, and they’re out there busting it sometimes 60 hours per week, wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half. It is the craziest thing in the world. So here’s the simplest thing: Figure out an affordable rate and let people use that. Something that won’t undermine your quality of life, won’t interfere with your ability to make expenses and save money, and let people buy into Medicare or Medicaid.
White House Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, was not amused:
“I think what I would say is the president is quite proud of the accomplishment of the Affordable Care Act,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters, in response to Clinton calling the program “the craziest thing in the world.”
“The American people benefit from the way the law has been implemented,” Earnest said.
He rattled off a list of achievements under the law, such as 20 million newly insured Americans, increased competition and consumer protections that block companies from refusing to insure people with pre-existing illnesses.
Asked whether the White House hoped that Clinton would have used different words to describe the law, Earnest responded, “Of course.”
But he declined to attack Clinton, the husband of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, for comments that were widely seen as a direct challenge to Obama.
“For the point that President Clinton was trying to make, I guess I would refer you to his team,” Earnest said. “You’ll have to talk to President Clinton directly about what message he was trying to send.”
This is not the first time WJC has been critical of the ACA. During the cancellation wave in the fall of 2013, he faulted the President for breaking his promise that people can keep the plans they like. As I discuss in Unraveled:
Even the forty-second president joined the fray, urging the forty-fourth president to take action. Former-President Bill Clinton said that people should be allowed to keep their policies: “I personally believe, even if it takes a change in the law, that the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they’ve got.”63 Obama had once called Clinton the “Secretary of Explaining Things,” and the former president understood the risk of canceled policies all too well.64 It was Harry and Louise’s fear that they would have to change their coverage that doomed HillaryCare in 1994. House Speaker John Boehner relished in Clinton’s critique: “These comments signify a growing recognition that Americans were misled when they were promised that they could keep their coverage under President Obama’s health care law. The entire health care law is a train wreck that needs to go.”65
Hillary Clinton said nothing about the canceled policies.66 In contrast with her husband’s loquaciousness, the former Secretary of State’s silence was deafening. On the campaign trail six years earlier, candidate Clinton’s health care plan featured an individual mandate, which would have also resulted in the cancellation of inadequate plans. To assuage the fears that derailed her health care reform two decades earlier, during a 2007 event in Iowa, Clinton made an all-too-familiar promise: “You can keep the doctors you know and trust. You keep the insurance you have. If you have private insurance you like, nothing changes – you can keep that insurance.”67
Update: President Clinton has walked back his statement:
“I want to say this one thing about the healthcare law, because that’s another thing they’ve been trying to tangle in — I supported the Affordable Care Act. I support it today,” he said while campaigning for his wife in Steubenville, Ohio on Tuesday.
“It did a great job in ensuring 25 million more people, and it did something for 100 percent of the people, it says you cannot deny anybody health insurance because of a pre-existing condition,” he continued.
“All of that is important,” he acknowledged, before going on to offer measured criticism of the law, saying, “There is a big problem with it that needs to be fixed, that everybody who knows admits it. If you’re just above the line to qualify for the Medicaid expansion, or just above the line to qualify for the subsidies for small businesses and workers, the likelihood is that your premiums have gone up, your coverage has gone down.”
Update 2: Secretary Clinton offered a response:
When asked by another reporter to clarify her husband’s comments, Clinton briefly responded, “I think he made it clear what he was saying.”