WASHINGTON — President Obama, slipping back into his episodic role as a vigorous campaigner for his new health-care act, said Thursday that thanks to the law, more than 8.5 million Americans were getting rebates this summer from their insurance providers.
Obama was flanked by families who have benefited from a provision in the law, which requires health insurers to spend at least 80 percent of the revenue from premiums on medical care rather than on administrative costs. Insurers who fail to meet that benchmark must reimburse customers, a process that began in 2012.
“Last year, millions of Americans opened letters from their insurance companies, but instead of the usual dread that comes with getting a bill, they were pleasantly surprised with a check,” Obama said at the White House.
The checks typically amount to no more than a few hundred dollars. But the president, recounting stories of middle-class families on the stage behind him, celebrated these modest windfalls as an early sign of the tangible benefits of the law.
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For Obama, it was a high-profile return to a debate in which his voice has sometimes seemed missing. For example, he has said nothing publicly about the administration’s decision to delay for a year a part of the law dealing with employer-provided insurance.
With the Republican-controlled House voting yet again this week to repeal the Affordable Care Act, however, he seized on new statistics that demonstrate the law is driving down premiums in New York, California and several other states.
The Department of Health and Human Services’s new report asserted that, in 11 states and the District of Columbia, proposed health-insurance premiums for 2014 are nearly 20 percent lower than the administration projected.
Thursday’s carefully choreographed event was intended to put the White House back on the offensive on health care, after a messy period following its decision to delay requiring businesses with more than 50 employees to offer health insurance or pay a penalty.
The delay came after heavy pressure from businesses, which said the law was too complex and cumbersome to implement on time, and it provided critics with fresh ammunition for their claim that the law was putting unfair burdens on individuals and employers.
Not everyone who is uninsured is expected to take the opportunity to get coverage, and that could have vast consequences for the economics of the system. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that about 6 million people of various ages will instead pay the tax penalty for not having insurance in 2014.
It’s hard to estimate how many of those will be the young and healthy adults that insurers need to offset costs for older, sicker beneficiaries.
Obama noted with approval that some states are anticipating lower premiums because of the insurance marketplaces being created so consumers can comparison shop for the coverage. Among those states are California, Oregon, Washington and New York.
But there are issues in other states, including Mississippi, where in 36 of 82 counties, so far, no insurers are offering plans through the federal online marketplace scheduled to begin enrolling customers Oct. 1. It’s unclear whether people in those counties will be held in violation of the law that says they must have coverage.
Pollster Gallup found 52 percent of Americans disapproved of the Affordable Care Act when asked in late June. Forty-four percent approved. Gallup found 42 percent saying the law would affect their families’ situations in a negative way, 22 percent positive and 33 percent saying it won’t make a difference.