On Monday, Bill Clinton “slammed Obamacare,” calling it the “craziest thing in the world.” Or so headlines on The Hill and CNN suggested. And on first glance, the stories beneath those headlines seemed to deliver the goods. Per CNN:
“So you’ve got this crazy system where all of a sudden 25 million more people have health care and then the people who are out there busting it, sometimes 60 hours a week, wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half. It’s the craziest thing in the world,” Clinton said … “On the other hand, the current system works fine if you’re eligible for Medicaid, if you’re a lower-income working person; if you’re already on Medicare, or if you get enough subsidies on a modest income that you can afford your health care,” Clinton said. “But the people that are getting killed in this deal are small business people and individuals who make just a little too much to get any of these subsidies.”
By itself, this quote sounds a lot like a former Democratic president saying the signature policy of the sitting Democratic president is an insane mess — specifically, a mess that lavishes benefits on people who qualify for entitlements, while doubling the premiums of “people who are out there busting it.”
Which is to say: It sounds like Bill Clinton is auditioning for a GOP attack ad.
The Trump campaign was quick to announce that the rapist who sold out American workers to Mexico had a point.
“With premiums continuing to skyrocket, state insurance markets collapsing and businesses struggling to comply with its job-killing mandates, even Democrats like Bill Clinton are coming to realize just what bad public policy ObamaCare really is,” Trump spokesperson Jason Miller wrote in a statement.
But, as the Huffington Post notes, when you look at Clinton’s quote in context, you see that this is not what he realized at all.
Before Clinton started talking about the people our “crazy system” is failing, he made it clear that said system is still better than the one Obama inherited, which Donald Trump would have us return to:
Now the next thing is, we got to figure out now what to do on health care. Her opponent said, ‘Oh, just repeal it all. The market will take care of it.’ That didn’t work out very well for us, did it? We wound up with the most expensive system in the world and we insured the smallest percentage of people. On the other hand, the current system works fine if you’re eligible for Medicaid, if you’re a lower income working person, if you’re already on Medicare, or if you get enough subsidies on a modest income that you can afford your health care.
Thus, the former president was advocating for Hillary Clinton’s proposed reforms to the ACA, not for the law’s repeal.
“Hillary believes we should simply let people who are above the line for getting these subsidies have access to affordable entry into the Medicare and Medicaid programs,” Clinton went on to say. “They’ll all be covered, it will not hurt the program, we will not lose a lot of money. And we ought to do it.”
In a separate speech in Pontiac Monday, Bill made his view of Obamacare more explicit, saying, “I think [Obama’s] health care bill has been a remarkable success for 25 million people, and for getting rid of pre-existing conditions, and the problems with it show why the president was right to recommend a public option in the first place.”
Hillary Clinton has called for introducing a public health-insurance option to ensure minimum standards and competition in the ACA marketplaces, allowing near-retirees to buy into Medicare, and providing tax credits to families burdened with unusually high health-care costs. The primary opposition to all of these reforms is, of course, the Republican Party.
Nonetheless, the aspiring First Gentleman should have chosen his words more carefully. It’s important for the ACA’s shortcomings to be forcefully critiqued. But a top surrogate of a Democratic presidential campaign shouldn’t be the one to do so.
When he does, it allows the GOP to exploit Obamacare’s central political liability: that it can be blamed for every preexisting problem with our (terrible) health-care system that the law failed to solve.