The Affordable Care Act is a key part of establishing financial security for Americans, President Obama argued in his annual State of the Union address Tuesday -- but the president went without addressing high-profile hiccups in the law's rollout.
In a speech with the theme of "Opportunity for All," Obama highlighted his signature domestic achievement as helping to ensure "the peace of mind that if misfortune strikes, you don’t have to lose everything."
Before members of both parties in a packed House chamber, the president ticked off the benefits of the law that has become synonymous with his name: three million Americans under the age of 26 who have gained coverage under their parents' health insurance plans; nine million have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid; and the fact that Americans will no longer be denied insurance coverage due to pre-existing conditions.
Among the first lady's guests this year at the State of the Union was Amanda Shelley, a 37-year-old physician assistant from Arizona who had been unable to find health insurance due to a pre-existing condition before the implementation of Obamacare.
Shelley became covered on Jan. 1, and by Jan. 6 required emergency surgery.
“For decades, few things exposed hard-working families to economic hardship more than a broken health care system,” he said. “Just one week earlier ... that surgery would've meant bankruptcy.”
Obamacare's initial healthcare.gov rollout was roiled by technical problems in October, providing Republicans with ample fodder to criticize the administration's handling of its signature reforms. The president declined to address this.
After a "tech surge" to improve the website's poor performance and the dismissal of the original contractor behind its design, the Obama administration has argued that the worst of its health care technical issues are under control.
Republicans, who have spent much of the past congressional session focusing almost single-mindedly on the need to repeal, replace, defund or amend the president's health care reforms, continued to pound home their point Tuesday.
The Republican criticism of Obamacare took a personal turn when Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a staunch opponent of the law, told MNSBC's "Morning Joe" on Tuesday morning that his new health insurance doesn't cover his cancer specialist. Coburn, who is battling prostate cancer, announced recently his plans to resign after the end of the current legislative session.
In a broader effort to frame the president as unwilling to work with Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Obama could "show he's serious about a year of action" by working with Republicans to "start over" on health care reform.
"He could work with us to relieve the pain Obamacare is causing for so many Americans across the country. Across all income brackets," McConnell said. "I asked him last year to prepare Americans for the consequences of this law. He didn’t do it. Today, those consequences are plain for anyone to see."
Obama dismissed this possibility outright, saying "the American people aren’t interested in refighting old battles," but said that he was open to discussing compromise that would "cut costs, cover more people and increase choice."
"Let’s not have another forty-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans like Amanda," he said. "Tell America what you’d do differently. Let’s see if the numbers add up."
Wrapping up the health care portion of his speech, the president encouraged Americans to get their family members signed up for health insurance.
"Moms, get on your kids to sign up," he said. "Kids, call your mom and walk her through the application. It will give her some peace of mind — plus, she’ll appreciate hearing from you."