That was Clinton’s job on Wednesday when he appeared at his presidential center in Little Rock, Ark., to discuss the specifics of Obama’s signature health care law.
His mission, which he accepted from the Obama White House, is a tough one. He must try to explain Obamacare, the complex – and confusing – law to people who may not quite fully understand what is about to happen to the healthcare system in this country. The opening of the Affordable Care Act’s Insurance Marketplaces opens on Oct. 1.
Still, the law is not popular among Americans and Republicans continue to criticize it. It’s now up to Bill Clinton to change everyone’s minds.
In typical Clintonian fashion, the former president was 30 minutes late to the podium. It didn’t matter that his speech was live-streamed on his foundation’s website. He still made the audience of 300 – all of whom were invited and many Friends of Bill (FOBs) – wait.
Mara D’Amico, a student at the Clinton School of Public Service, introduced the former president who received an unsurprising standing ovation. Clinton laid out his background as if presenting an argument to a jury.
Clinton first dealt with health care issues when he was Arkansas’ attorney general in the 1970s battling nursing homes over Medicaid fraud. As the state’s governor, he worked to get health care to communities where it was unsafe to deliver a baby. However, he did not mention that he and Hillary Clinton unsuccessfully attempted to pass universal health care in the first term on his presidency.
“I did something that is unusual for me,” he said, holding up pieces of white paper. “I wrote this whole thing out.”
“That’s because it’s so confusing,” the TV reporter beside me said.
Clinton laid out the positives of the health care law and then the negatives. He explained that nearly 18 percent of this country’s gross domestic product is spent on health care. By lowering it to 12 percent, $1 trillion would flow back into the economy.
He acknowledged that people on both sides of the aisle in Washington, D.C. do not like the law. The left doesn’t like because it doesn’t offer a public option. The right doesn’t like it because it increases the role of government.
“I think we should work together to implement the law even if we aren’t for it,” Clinton said.
Why should Americans like this law then? Clinton outlined several reasons. First, it’s the best chance America has had for universal coverage. Next, it’s the law.
“We all have an interest in executing the law,” he said.
Clinton offered a litany of statistics about how the law has already changed the face of health care including: three million people under 26 now have coverage; 6.6 million senior citizens pay less in prescriptions and 27 million women and 26 million men now have extended preventive benefits. Women can no longer be charged higher premiums than men.
For several minutes, Clinton lectured as if he was in a college classroom instead of the Great Hall in his presidential library.
The GOP blogger next to me typed on his iPad: “Rattling off stats of dubious provenance.”
Wearing the hat of the insurance salesman, Clinton explained in great detail about how people can use the new online health care markets to order insurance. He touted a toll-free number. He talked about the bronze, silver, gold and platinum levels of insurance coverage available on a government website and the available tax credit. He tried to explain the computer system associated with the markets.
Clinton was preaching to the choir, and they glazed over.
Sure, he acknowledged, there were problems with this law.
He pointed out that workers who made between $20,000 to $30,000 a year may be eligible for health insurance through their employers. Yet, their families may not qualify. Some people may make just enough money to qualify for low-income help with insurance. He said that obviously this isn’t fair and Congress should fix it.
Another issue that needs addressing is tax credits. If more taxes were designed correctly, smaller business, which currently don’t have to provide health insurance if they have fewer than 50 full-time employees, would likely join health insurance pools.
Lastly, Clinton pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court decision to allow states to opt in or out of Medicaid expansion participation. Many states have opted out of the expansion, meaning low-income workers below 138 percent of the federal poverty level may not qualify for any health insurance options.
“You’re too poor to get help,” he said, declaring this a serious problem.
Clinton, forever the unifier, called on Congress to work together. “I hope Congress will follow the lead of many, many Republicans and Democrats at the state level and try to implement this law. The health of our people, the security of our families, and the strength of our economy are dependent on getting health care right.”
Another standing ovation and more applause greeted Clinton as he concluded. The crowd waited in line to shake his hand and snap a picture as a Bruce Springsteen song blasted. He shook every hand as long as there was one to shake.
Of course, Obama asked Clinton to help him maneuver the healthcare waters. No one closes a deal better than the self-proclaimed Comeback Kid.
Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt” and “1000 Best Bartender’s Recipes.” She writes frequently for Reuters, TakePart, and numerous other publications. Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker.