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Obama stands by health-care reforms, defends website

U.S. President Barack Obama waves after speaking about the Affordable Care Act at the White House in Washington December 3, 2013.


Insisting that Obamacare is already working and vowing never to repeal it, President Barack Obama defended the problem-plagued health-care reforms that may define his legacy.

"Do not let the initial problems with the website discourage you because it's working better now," a subdued Mr. Obama told a hand-picked audience of ardent supporters on Tuesday. "And it's going to keep on working better over time."

In an effort to get past the crash-prone website fiasco that turned the initial launch two months ago into a politically charged disaster and left millions frustrated and rejected in their efforts to register for coverage, Mr. Obama attempted to shift the focus – and the blame – in a short speech. It marked the relaunch on Monday of the revised website, which has mostly been working for the past two days.

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"We're not repealing [the Affordable Care Act] as long as I'm President," Mr. Obama told a few dozen carefully selected boosters who applauded him enthusiastically in a closed auditorium annexed to the White House.

Flanked by sick people who said they would be sicker – and likely poorer – without the new law, Mr. Obama's speech was both unequivocal and understated. There was no inflammatory rhetoric, but no backing down either.

"The bottom line is this law is working and will work into the future," he insisted. He read excerpts from letters sent by grateful – and now-insured – Americans whose tales of crushing medical bills or life-threatening illnesses that could bankrupt their families have been the emotive fodder in the bitter fight over health-care reform.

Mr. Obama – battered in the polls and with his approval rating at an all-time low after the roll-out mess – said it was the United States' health system that was broken, not his sweeping reforms.

Americans had a "broken health-care system" that left more than 40 million without coverage and tens of millions more with inadequate or unaffordable insurance, he said. The Affordable Care Act is intended to fix those problems and drive down the overall spending on health care in the United States – currently far higher per capita than that of any other Western nation.

"In America, no one should worry about going broke … or having to choose between putting food on their kids' table or taking them to a doctor," Mr. Obama said.

Only once did he use the now ubiquitous term "Obamacare," and that was to challenge the legions of critics – mostly Republicans – who regard the health-care scheme as dead on arrival and hope to leverage its problems into Congressional gains in next year's midterm elections.

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But even as the White House claimed the massively repaired registration website had coped with more than 1.5 million visitors since its Monday relaunch, teams of technicians were frantically working to address problems with the back-end of the site.

Insurers, required under the new law to offer policies that meet minimum standards of care, claim much of the enrolment data are so useless that they cannot provide policies by the Jan. 1, 2014, deadline.

The embattled White House has repeatedly delayed key dates – pushing some requirements back as much as a year – but Mr. Obama has not budged on any of the sweeping changes, including outright repeal, demanded by Republicans

"We're not going back," he said, and urged Americans not to judge the biggest revamp of the U.S. health-care system since employer-provided insurance became the norm during the Second World War. "Our poor execution in the first couple months on the website clouded the fact that there are a whole bunch of people who stand to benefit," he said – referring to the provision, for the first time, of health care for vast numbers of working poor and those already ill who previously were rejected by insurers.

Republican critics were not swayed. Even before the President spoke, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Obamacare was "broken beyond repair," adding it should be fully repealed and replaced by "patient-centred reforms that drive down costs and that Americans actually want."

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International Affairs and Security Correspondent

Paul More


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