Obama cites gains in health coverage during Milwaukee visit

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Pete Souza/ The White House

MILWAUKEE (AP) – President Barack Obama trumpeted the nation’s declining uninsured rate Thursday and said 20 million people have gained insurance as a result of his signature health care law as he commemorated the approaching sixth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act.

Obama criticized Republicans for trying to repeal the bill and said they have offered “zero” as a viable alternative.

Congratulating local leaders in Milwaukee for winning a national health insurance enrollment contest, Obama acknowledged that millions more are eligible to enroll but have yet to do so. He attributed some of that to acrimony over the law, saying people haven’t always known what’s true and what’s not.

Obama was introduced at the event by Brent Brown of Mosinee, Wisconsin, who said he’s a Republican who never voted to elect Obama. But he said the president’s health care law saved his life after he was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and ran out of money for treatment.

Brown called on Republicans to quit trying to repeal the law. “The Affordable Care Act saved my life. I want to repeat that,” Brown said.

More than 38,000 Milwaukee-area residents have newly signed up for health coverage, out of about 51,000 uninsured people who were eligible to enroll. The city’s sign-up ratio was the highest among the 20 cities competing in the president’s “Healthy Communities Challenge.” The winning city was promised a visit by the president.

“All told, counting new folks and people renewing their coverage, you got nearly 90,000 people to sign up,” Obama said. “That’s enough to fill Lambeau Field and still have a big tailgating party with folks outside. And those tailgaters wouldn’t have to worry because Obamacare covers indigestion from too many brats.” Lambeau Field is the home of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.

Obama also faulted Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for refusing federal funding to expand Medicaid, an option given to states under the law, to help cover more people. Obama said 21,000 additional state residents would be covered “with the stroke of his pen.”

“He’s denying Wisconsinites their ticket to health insurance and it’s political,” Obama said of Walker, who dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination last year. Walker has argued that the federal government can’t be trusted to keep its funding commitment to the states.

For the first time, more than 9 in 10 Americans have health insurance. And the number of uninsured has dropped from about 44.8 million in 2013, the year before the health care law’s big coverage expansion, to about 28.8 million, according to the latest estimates.

An improving economy has also helped boost coverage, analysts say.

Still, polling continues to show that slightly more Americans view the law unfavorably than favorably. And repealing the law has been a mantra of Republicans running for federal office as critics argue that the law’s mandates have increased coverage costs unnecessarily.

“Republicans and our critics have spent hundreds of millions of dollars distorting the truth about this law, fueling conspiracy theories about this law,” White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz told reporters traveling with the president. “There’s no question that that’s going to have an impact.”

Obama is using his final year to visit communities he says have benefited from his presidency. He hailed the auto industry’s rebound during a recent trip to Detroit and last week touted the economic stimulus bill on a visit to Florida. Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law on March 23, 2010.

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