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Politics & Government

Obama Invokes Romneycare Success, Rollout Trouble In Boston Speech


The Obama administration weighed in on today's hearing, saying the president has complete confidence in Secretary Sebelius. Those remarks came as the president flew to Boston today. That's where President Obama defended his health care law. The setting for the speech was full of significance. NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us now to tell us more about the event. And, Ari, just tell us where exactly was the president and why does it matter?

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: He was at historic Faneuil Hall in Boston, which is where Governor Mitt Romney signed the Massachusetts health care bill into law seven years ago. That law, of course, was the model for the Affordable Care Act. Romney was not invited to attend today's event but he was invoked by the president who said, I always believed when he was governor that Romney did the right thing on health care.

Back in 2006, of course, Romney talked about the bipartisan effort that went into passing the state law. And today, President Obama said it would help if the same bipartisan effort could support the Affordable Care Act. He said people are so locked into the politics of this thing that they won't help their own people.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If they put as much energy into making this law work as they do in attacking the law, Americans would be better off.

CORNISH: But did the president respond to some of the problems that we've been hearing about this week?

SHAPIRO: He sure did. You know, there have been two major problems. One is the malfunctioning website. President Obama said there is no excuse for it and he's not happy about it. But he said that's going to get fixed. The other issue is people on the individual insurance market who, in some cases, are being kicked off their plans. President Obama, of course, said if you like your plan, you can keep it. On this, he was a little more combative today. He said insurers that are canceling people's plans, for the most part, are encouraging them to get better plans.

OBAMA: And then many will get new help to pay for these better plans and make them actually cheaper. If you leave that stuff out, you're being grossly misleading, to say the least.

SHAPIRO: Of course, Republicans respond that it was grossly misleading of President Obama in the first place to say that people who liked their plans could keep them.

CORNISH: But give us some context here. I mean, how similar are these two programs? Is this a legitimate comparison between the Massachusetts law and the Affordable Care Act today?

SHAPIRO: You know, there are some ways you can compare them, but they're not exactly the same, obviously. Both have started with slow enrollment. The Massachusetts plan saw an enrollment spike at the end of the sign-up period, so that gives hope to the Affordable Care Act supporters. But people of both parties agree that the analogy only goes so far. For example, there is way more diversity among the states than there is within Massachusetts. Massachusetts residents almost all had health insurance to start with, some 92 percent of them before the law took effect. The same, of course, is not true of the United States as a whole.

I spoke earlier today with Josh Archambault, who's a health care expert at the Pioneer Institute, a Boston think tank. He's been critical of the health care law, and he points out that the Massachusetts law was far more popular when it took effect than the federal law is now.

JOSHUA ARCHAMBAULT: The question is, is it those young people that are waiting nationally because they think it's too expensive or they can't figure out the process, or is it that they're simply waiting because they don't want to purchase it and they won't actually show up? So I do think that there is a different political landscape nationally around the Affordable Care Act than there ever was in Massachusetts.

SHAPIRO: And you said former Governor Mitt Romney was not invited to attend this event. Have we heard anything from him?

Yes. He posted a statement on Facebook just ahead of the president's speech where he was as critical of the federal law as he was during the presidential campaign. The statement said in part: A plan crafted to fit the unique circumstances of a single state should not be grafted onto the entire country. Goes on: Had President Obama actually learned the lessons of Massachusetts health care, millions of Americans would not lose the insurance they were promised they could keep. Millions more would not see their premiums skyrocket, and the installation of the program would not have been a frustrating embarrassment.

CORNISH: OK. NPR's Ari Shapiro. Ari, thank you.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.