Former President Barack Obama publicly called on members of Congress to fight back against a Republican repeal and replacement of his signature Affordable Care Act.
Since leaving office, Obama has, as a matter of policy, steered clear of political discourse. He has retained a neutral and even somewhat optimistic tone concerning the Trump administration.
The announcement and call for action, made Sunday, marks a break from the former president’s policy of remaining silent.
He asked lawmakers to “champion the vulnerable and the sick and infirm,” speaking from behind a podium at the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation in Boston.
Obama was at the building receiving the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.
Perhaps making a reference to the honor he was receiving, Obama reminded legislators that “courage does not always mean doing what is politically expedient, but what they believe deep in their hearts is right.”
The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, is often regarded as either the former president’s crowning achievement or worst decision, depending on whose opinion is being asked.
Both praised and derided as ‘Obamacare,’ the Affordable Care Act extended health insurance coverage to tens of millions of Americans while raising taxes on wealthy individuals and insurers. Among the least popular of its caveats was that persons who wanted to ‘opt out’ of the health insurance market would be subject to a sizeable fine each tax cycle.
The Republican plan passed by the House last Thursday to replace Obamacare removes many of the protections and regulations enacted by the Affordable Care Act.
The ‘individual mandate’ will be done away with if the Senate approves the House plan, as will protections for patients with pre-existing conditions.
While Republicans have been searching for an avenue through which to chop down Obamacare since it first leapt into being, the first attempt made by the Trump administration and House Republican majority to repeal it resulted in a no-vote.
Congressional conservatives were divided on the effort. Many followed the lead of House Speaker Paul Ryan, who, along with President Trump, touted a repeal-and-replace effort as being both a practical necessity as well as a political one.
Others in the more-conservative-than-conservative Freedom Caucus blasted the Republican proposal as “Obamacare Lite,” just as more moderate right-wingers wondered if their constituents might lose too much under the provisions and lack thereof of the hastily written bill.
During the receipt of his award Sunday night, Obama reminded the audience in attendance that healthcare reform had long been a priority of John F. Kennedy’s brother and longtime Democratic senator, Edward Kennedy.
“There was a reason why healthcare reform had not been accomplished before,” Obama said. “It was hard, it involved a sixth of the economy and all manner of stakeholders and interests.
“It was easily subject to misinformation and fearmongering.”