April 5 (UPI) — Former President Barack Obama returned to the White House for the first time since leaving office Tuesday to throw his support behind an effort to fix a “glitch” in his landmark healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act.
He and President Joe Biden said the fix would save American families thousands of dollars in healthcare costs.
“The reason we are here today is because President Biden, Vice President [Kamala] Harris, everyone who has worked on this thing, knew from the start that the ACA wasn’t perfect,” Obama said. “To get the bill passed, we had to make compromises, we didn’t get everything we wanted. That wasn’t a reason not to do it.”
The “family glitch” is a regulation in the ACA that says a person can qualify for a tax credit and buy medical coverage in ACA exchanges if their employer does not offer “affordable” health insurance. The rule, however, extends only to the individual — and not family members.
The proposed rule to change the so-called glitch must go through the rule-making process before it could become official.
During the event, Biden signed a new executive order directing federal agencies to do everything possible to expand affordable health coverage, which is basically a repeat of an order he issued upon taking office last year.
“The bottom line is this: The Affordable Care Act is stronger now than it’s ever been,” Biden said during the signing ceremony. “Today, we’re strengthening it even further.”
Obama has largely retired into private life since he left the Oval Office after his second term in January 2017, occasionally taking part in various charitable events. He also campaigned heavily for Biden during his White House bid in 2020.
The reunion of Biden and Obama at the White House brought lots of laughs and jokes between the two men. Obama opened his remarks referring to Biden as “vice president,” a role the latter served for both of Obama’s terms.
“That was a joke,” Obama said. “That was all set up. My president, Joe Biden.”
Obama also joked about the changes made at the White House.
“Apparently, Secret Service agents have to wear aviators now. The Navy mess has been replaced by a Baskin Robbins. And there’s a cat running around, which, I guarantee you, Beau [Biden], it’s funny, would have been very unhappy about,” Obama said.
“But coming back, even if I have to wear a tie, which I very rarely do these days, gives me a chance to visit with some of the incredible people who serve this White House and serve this country every single day.”
The 44th president said he felt so passionate about the ACA — dubbed Obamacare — that he was willing to push for it even if it cost him politically.
“Despite great odds, Joe and I were determined because we met too many people on the campaign trail who shared their stories. Our own families had been touched by illness,” Obama said. “As I said to our dear friend [former Senate Democratic leader] Harry Reid … I intended to get healthcare passed even if it costs me re-election, which, for while, it looked like it might.”
White House officials said 6 million Americans have newly acquired ACA coverage this year and a record 14.5 million signed up for coverage in 2022.
“For family members of an employee offered health coverage through an employer, the cost of that family coverage can sometimes be very expensive and make health insurance out of reach,” the White House said.
“The ‘family glitch’ affects about 5 million people and has made it impossible for many families to use the premium tax credit to purchase an affordable, high-quality Marketplace plan.”
The White House said that actions taken since 2020 have lowered premiums and out-of-pocket costs, made it easier for Americans to sign up for coverage and expanded access to Medicaid. Many of the ACA-related measures under Biden’s administration were funded by the American Rescue Plan, a large aid package passed in early 2021 that was part of Biden’s COVID-19 response.
Also joining Biden and Obama at Tuesday’s event were Vice President Kamala Harris, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and other members of Biden’s Cabinet.
While running for president in 2020 when other Democratic candidates like Bernie Sanders were promoting entirely new healthcare plans, Biden said that, instead, he planned to upgrade and enhance the ACA.
“We should be building from what we have,” he said in mid-2019. “We should not be starting from scratch. There is no time to wait.”
Since it was passed more than a decade ago, the healthcare law has seen a number of revisions and numerous Republican-led efforts to repeal it. Former President Donald Trump succeeded in getting the individual mandate repealed, which required uncovered Americans to buy coverage through ACA exchanges or face a fine — a move to ensure that enough people would participate in the system so that the law would work properly.
While Trump-led efforts to disband the ACA entirely, he promised but never introduced a healthcare proposal to replace it. One effort, the American Health Care Act, was heavily criticized and was ultimately withdrawn on Capitol Hill because there weren’t enough votes to pass it.
Last June, the Supreme Court voted 7-2 to dismiss a claim by 18 Republican-led states that the ACA is unconstitutional. Biden called the decision a “victory for every American.”