WASHINGTON - Disputing Republican criticism of his health care plan, President Barack Obama said Thursday the law is working and cutting costs for consumers with insurance company rebates and the promise of lower premiums.
At a White House event, Obama drew attention to $500 million in rebates going to nearly 9 million people under a provision of the law he said is holding insurance companies more accountable to their customers.
Insurers must spend at least 80 cents of every dollar on medical care or quality improvement, or refund the difference. That's the $500 million consumers are getting in rebates averaging about $100. For Americans who get insurance through their work, the rebates go to their employers to be refunded or used to lower premiums.
"If they're not spending your premium dollars on health care, they have to give you some money back," said the president, appearing with a group of health care consumers in the East Room. Obama also noted that some states, ahead of the law's requirement that most Americans obtain health insurance, are anticipating lower premiums because of health insurance marketplaces that are being set up under the law so consumers can comparison shop for the coverage.
Among those states are California, Oregon, Washington and New York.
Obama made his pitch a day after the Republican-controlled House voted for the 38th time to eliminate, cut funding or scale back the 3-year-old law since the GOP took control of the House in January 2011.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday the free money sounds great but won't remove the sting of new health care taxes that will begin costing consumers next year.
"Jacking up our constituents' health care costs is bad enough, but to try to then convince them the opposite is happening - that they've actually won some Publishers Clearinghouse sweepstakes, well, it's just as absurd as it sounds," the Kentucky senator said on the floor of the Senate.
Obama dismissed the Republican criticism and the efforts in the House to roll back the law, saying he's willing to consider Republican ideas but that he hasn't heard any.
"What I've heard is the same old song and dance," he said. "We're just going to blow through that stuff and just keep on doing the right thing for the American people."
Republicans say the law is unworkable and must be repealed, arguing it will hurt the economy and force employers to cut much-needed jobs. They say proof that the law is unworkable lies in the administration's recent, unexpected decision to delay for one year, until after the 2014 elections, a requirement that businesses with 50 or more employees provide them with health care coverage or pay a penalty.
The GOP-controlled House on Wednesday passed, mostly along party lines, two bills to amend the law.
The House voted 264-161 to affirm the administration's decision to delay what's known as the employer mandate, the requirement that businesses of a specific size offer health care coverage to their workers. It also voted 251-174 to extend a similar delay to individuals who will be required to obtain health care coverage starting Jan. 1, or face fines.
The votes were held to score political points. The House measures have no chance of clearing the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House has said Obama would veto both if they were to reach his desk.
The goal of the health care law is to provide coverage to nearly 50 million uninsured people and lower skyrocketing costs, but the public remains skeptical about how their coverage may be affected. The administration's decision to delay the employer mandate only served to fuel more doubts.