Obama in staunch defense of health care law

WASHINGTON Eager to counter Republicans intent on repealing his health care law, President Obama will argue that it's working and hold up as proof half a billion dollars in rebates insurance companies are sending to some 8.5 million consumers as a result.

At the White House on Thursday, Mr. Obama will argue that his Affordable Care Act is holding insurance companies accountable and putting money back into the pockets of consumers. The rebates average about $100, spokesman Jay Carney said.

Mr. Obama was arguing his case a day after the Republican-controlled House voted for the 38th time to eliminate, cut funding to or scale back the 3-year-old law since the GOP took control of the House in January 2011.

Carney also seized on reports that some states, including New York, California and Oregon, already are anticipating lower premiums because of health insurance marketplaces that are being set up under the law enabling consumers to comparison shop for the coverage they will be required to buy next year.

"Competition and transparency in the marketplaces, plus the hard effort by those committed to making the law work, are leading to affordable, new and better choices for families," he said.

The Affordable Care Act requires insurers to spend at least 80 cents of every dollar on medical care or quality improvement instead of administrative costs, or refund the difference. That's the $500 million consumers will collect this summer, half the $1.1 billion insurers gave back in 2012.

Republicans say the law is unworkable and must be repealed, arguing it will hurt the economy and force employers to cut much-needed jobs.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 the employer mandate, a requirement that businesses with 50 or more employees provide them with health care coverage or pay a penalty.

Both the employer mandate and the individual mandate, which requires individuals to obtain insurance or pay a fine, were originally slated to go into effect at the start of next year -- and the individual mandate still is. The many moving parts of Obamacare were designed to work in concert with one another, so delaying the employer mandate could have some ripple effects on the rest of the law's implementation. For instance, it could impact which Americans are exempt from the individual mandate, or who gets subsidies to purchase insurance on the exchanges.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., contends that the delay of the employer mandate is a harbinger of problems to come. "They clearly have a provision of the law that will not work, and they say it's not ready now," he told CBS News. "We say it will never be ready... These are unworkable provisions which have unintended consequences that are not good for jobs, they're not good for health care and it's not good for the fiscal health of our country and our economy."

The Republican-controlled House held two health care votes Wednesday, both largely along party lines.

The House voted 264-161 to affirm the administration's decision to delay the employer mandate. The House also voted 251-174 to extend a similar delay to the individual mandate.

The votes were held to score political points. The House measures have no chance of clearing the Democrat-controlled Senate and the White House has said Mr. Obama would veto both if they were to reach his desk. Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the health care law is, "in all likelihood, going to be the premiere issue in the 2014 election."

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.

"The president's health care law is a job-killing train wreck that is already hurting America's economy," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement issued after the votes. "Protecting big business from the president's health care law but denying the same relief to individuals and families is unfair and indefensible."

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