Bill Clinton should teach Obama how to sell Obamacare

Obama might not be ready to sell Obamacare the right way, but Bill Clinton probably is

By Brian Beutler
Published August 13, 2013 7:30PM (EDT)
Bill Clinton addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 5, 2012.                    (Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi)
Bill Clinton addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 5, 2012. (Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi)

It doesn't look like President Obama's ready to engage in real talk with young uninsured people about the pros and cons of the Affordable Care Act, and all the reasons they should enroll. But maybe President Clinton is.

Jonathan Cohn caught Obama equivocating about the law in his Friday press conference, claiming that uninsured people will "be able to go on a website or call up a call center and sign up for affordable quality health insurance at a significantly cheaper rate than what they can get right now on the individual market."

That's mostly true. But individual market premiums will rise for some young, healthy, mostly male consumers, in part because insurance will have to meet minimum coverage standards and in part because they'll be in a community rated risk pool. The cost increases will be greater for those who make too much money to qualify for federal subsidies.

Some of these folks will conclude they're getting a raw deal. But as I argued Monday, Obamacare advocates should be making the case not only that the law is actually in everyone's personal interest, but also that young people should take a more civic-minded view.

Obama might not want to go there. But health policy whiz Adrianna McIntyre unearthed remarks from Bill Clinton addressing Congress in 1993, making precisely this case:

"If you're a young, single person in your twenties and you're already insured, your rates may go up somewhat because you're going to go into a big pool with middle-aged people and older people, and we want to enable people to keep their insurance even when someone in their family gets sick. But I think that's fair because when the young get older they will benefit from it, first, and secondly, even those who pay a little more today will benefit 4, 5, 6, 7 years from now by our bringing health care costs closer to inflation."

I realize Clinton's health care reform failed in Congress. But not because of these kinds of arguments. He should take that show on the road this summer.

Brian Beutler

Brian Beutler is Salon's political writer. Email him at and follow him on Twitter at @brianbeutler.

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Affordable Care Act Barack Obama Bill Clinton Millenials Obamacare