President Obama will evoke the name of 2012 presidential rival Mitt Romney on Wednesday, traveling to Boston to tout the Massachusetts health law as a model of what Americans should eventually expect under Obamacare.
The president will speak from Faneuil Hall, where Romney as governor in 2006, joined by then-Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., famously signed off on the Bay State’s health care law — a model for the Affordable Care Act.
The health care appeal comes as the White House is on the defensive for a series of technical glitches with healthcare.gov and its admission that some Americans would not be able to keep their health insurance plans as the president had repeatedly promised.
The message to the public, according to White House officials and surrogates previewing the speech, is simple: Stay patient.
“We had dire predictions about what this law would do to private health insurance,” said Jonathan Gruber, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who helped craft the law implemented by Romney.
“The success of health care reform needs to be measured in months and years and not days and weeks,” Gruber added.
The administration has been unable to provide enrollment figures for the Obamacare public exchanges. They aren’t expected until mid-November, but administration officials have conceded that the initial number of participants will be modest.
David Simas, a White House deputy senior adviser, in a conference call with reporters Tuesday pointed out that 123 people — just 0.3 percent of eventual enrollees — had signed up for the Massachusetts exchanges in the first month.
However, the Massachusetts effort didn’t have the same level of technical issues as the federal rollout. And for all the attention being showered on the Massachusetts health law, there will be one conspicuous absence at the president’s event in Boston: Romney.
White House officials said they did not reach out to the former Massachusetts governor.
Romney, as the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, vowed to repeal Obamacare, despite the similarities between the Massachusetts law and Obama’s signature domestic achievement. In the heated GOP primary, “Romneycare” was used by the former governor’s opponents to tie his legislation to the president’s health reforms.
As for Obama, he’ll be forced to focus on the White House’s admission this week that some Americans will lose their health plans under Obamacare guidelines.
Roughly 14 million Americans on the individual insurance market face the prospect of cancellation notices if their plans are modified and don’t meet minimum standards.
The White House was reluctant to discuss such a development before the president’s reelection. Administration officials say the rule does not apply to those receiving health insurance through their employers or Medicaid and other federal programs not on the individual market.
Republicans accuse Obama of being blatantly dishonest about a program that will wreak havoc on the insurance market.
"Every which way you look at it, Obamacare has proven to be a train wreck – with problems that run far beyond its AOL-era website,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “A law that was delivered through a pack of fictitious promises can't be saved by another misleading speech."
Another architect of the Massachusetts law, however, insisted Tuesday that the American public would eventually come around on Obamacare.
“Insurance is a tough sale,” said Jon Kingsdale, executive director of the Massachusetts Health Connector. “Nobody goes down to their broker on Saturday morning to smell the leather and test-drive this baby.”