Bill Clinton: Obama health law created ‘crazy system’

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Former President Bill Clinton offered a blistering assessment of the Affordable Care Act on Monday in Flint, saying small businesses are “getting killed” by “this crazy system” created by the health care law his wife wants to shield from Republicans.

The former Democratic president said the 2010 health care reform law “works fine” for seniors in the Medicare system, low-income Americans on Medicaid and individuals who qualify for taxpayer-subsidized private health insurance plans sold on the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace.

“But the people who are getting killed in this deal are small-business people and individuals who make just a little too much to get any of these subsidies,” Bill Clinton said Monday during a speech for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in Flint. “They’re not organized, they don’t have any bargaining power with insurance companies and they’re getting whacked.”

Critics of the law including Juanita Duggan, president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business, seized Tuesday on Clinton’s comments.

“Former President Bill Clinton makes a very accurate and compelling case against the Affordable Care Act,” Duggan said in a statement. “Millions of Americans, including small-business owners, would like to know whether the candidates agree with his analysis and how they would fix the system.”

A national survey of small businesses found 63 percent experienced an increase in employee premiums between mid-2014 and mid-2015, according to the NFIB.

In Michigan, health insurance premiums sold on the federal marketplace are expected to rise an average of 6.5 percent next year, according to the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services.

But changes in premiums vary wildly from a 24 percent reduction for the Harbor Health Plan to a 35.8 percent increase for Healthplus of Michigan’s plan, according to the state insurance department.

The GOP-controlled Congress, especially the U.S. House, has voted more than 50 times to eliminate or repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act. Republicans contend the law limits patients’ choices and drives up costs for patients and health care companies.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has said she wants to make fixes to the controversial health care law, outgoing President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement.

But Bill Clinton was highly critical of the law in his speech Monday at the University of Michigan-Flint’s Northbank center.

“So you’ve got this crazy system where all of a sudden 25 million more people have health care and the people that are busting it — sometimes 60 hours a week — wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half,” Clinton said. “It’s the craziest thing in the world.”

Hillary Clinton has been staunchly against scrapping the law as Republican presidential rival Donald Trump has said he would do if elected president.

On Tuesday, Clinton sidestepped a reporter’s question about her husband’s characterization of Obama’s health care law as “crazy.”

“We’re going to tackle it, we’re going to fix it, but it won’t be easy,” Clinton said at a news conference in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “But it’s a heck of a lot better than starting from scratch, which is what the Republicans want to do.”

President Clinton’s team issued a Tuesday statement about his Flint talk.

“While he was slightly shorthanded, it’s clear to everyone, including President Obama, that improvements are needed,” Bill Clinton representative Angel Urena said in a statement. “That’s why Secretary Clinton has proposed measures including tax relief to cover excessive out-of-pocket costs, a public option and Medicare buy-in for those over 55.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest defended the health care law Tuesday, pointing to provisions creating benefits, letting children stay on their parents’ plans until age 26 and ensuring coverage for sick Americans with pre-existing medical conditions.

“That’s why the ACA continues to be a source of pride for people who work here in the administration for that significant accomplishment,” Earnest told reporters during his daily press briefing. “That’s essentially our position. You’d have to talk to President Clinton on what message exactly he was trying to send.”

In Flint on Monday, Bill Clinton said his wife wants to create a system where consumers could “buy into” the Medicare or Medicaid health insurance programs, which are mostly managed by private health insurers.

“Hillary believes we should simply let people who are above the line for getting these subsidies have access to affordable entry into the Medicare and Medicaid programs,” Bill Clinton said. “It will not hurt the program, we will not lose a lot of money and we ought to do it.”

CNN reported that the former president tried to temper his criticism of the Affordable Care Act during a Tuesday appearance in Ohio.

“Look, the Affordable Health Care Act did a world of good, and the 50-something efforts to repeal it that the Republicans have staged were a terrible mistake,” Clinton told a rally in Athens. “We, for the first time in our history, at least are providing insurance to more than 90 percent of our people.”

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood

Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed.