WH: President Wants to 'Tweak' Obamacare--By Adding a Public Option

Susan Jones | October 20, 2016 | 6:51am EDT
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The next open enrollment period begins on Nov. 1. President Obama wants to "tweak" his signature health care law by adding a public (government-run) plan, his spokesman said on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - President Obama believes his signature health care law "has had enormous benefits for Americans all across the country," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Wednesday.

But Obama also thinks "that there are some tweaks to the law that could be implemented that would further improve its performance," Earnest added.

"And the president has laid out some ideas for what those tweaks would look like, including further enhancing competition in the marketplace by allowing the creation of a public option. That would -- that added competition in all 50 states would, we believe, have the effect of further challenging private health insurance companies to improve their offerings and reduce their prices.

"So these are the kinds of things that the next Congress will have to consider."

The public option, supported by Hillary Clinton and other liberals, would be a government-funded health care plan intended to compete with the plans offered by a dwindling number of private insurers. Some of the big insurers have pulled out of certain states because of higher-than-expected costs.

President Obama is traveling to Miami on Thursday to urge people to sign up for Obamacare when open enrollment begins on Nov. 1.

On Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said she expects 13.8 million people to sign up for 2017 coverage, compared with the 12.7 million consumers who picked health insurance plans during this year's open enrollment.

Premiums are escalating for many subscribers, and dissatisfaction with the Democrats' health care plan is soaring, especially among Americans who don't get subsidies but have to pay full freight.

Earnest criticized Republicans in Congress for not sharing Obama's interest in trying to "improve our healthcare system."

"Maybe the next batch of members of Congress will and hopefully we'll have a president, like the candidate that President Obama has endorsed, who is determined to build on the remarkable success of the Affordable Care Act," Earnest said.

A reporter asked Earnest how setting up a public option could be considered a "tweak." "Wouldn't that be a major legislative and administrative undertaking?" the reporter asked.

"I don't mean to downplay it," Earnest responded. "I think that this would be an important change that would improve the system. But I also wouldn't exaggerate the kind of change that this would necessitate."

Earnest said many of the changes already made to the law "were difficult to implement."

"And adding an additional offering is a substantial change, but it doesn't reflect a complete overhaul, if you will, of the marketplace mechanism that was put in place by the Affordable Care Act."

Earnest said although costs are going up in the health care exchanges, "we do expect that next year, more than half of the people who seek to purchase health insurance plans through the marketplace will be able to do so for $75 a month or less."

Earnest said that's because the government subsidy increases in line with costs -- "to make health care affordable for people."

"So this is something I do anticipate that we're going to be talking about quite a bit during the fall, so I appreciate your interest in this. And obviously the president will be discussing this up in Miami tomorrow, but you know, we'll have an opportunity to spend more time working through these numbers."

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