White House touts health insurance gains in Arizona under Obamacare

WASHINGTON – Arizonans without health insurance fell from 20.4 percent of state residents in 2013 to 17.5 percent in 2014, further proof that Obamacare is working, the White House said Tuesday.

The administration released new health care numbers for every state and the nation on the same day that President Barack Obama told a Washington meeting that the five-year-old law has “now been woven into the fabric of America.”

“Five years in, what we are talking about it is no longer just a law. It’s no longer just a theory,” Obama said, according to a transcript of his speech to the Catholic Health Association. “There is a reality that people on the ground day to day are experiencing. Their lives are better.”

The White House campaign comes as the Supreme Court is expected to rule in the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act, King v. Burwell, that could upend the law in what Obama called a “cynical” attempt to deny people coverage.

He said that health care reform has resulted in 16 million people who are now insured, driving the national uninsured rate from 17.1 percent in 2013 to 11.9 percent in the first quarter of 2015, what Obama called the lowest rate ever.

But the White House push appeared to do little Tuesday to sway the law’s supporters or detractors in Arizona.

The Affordable Care Act “is anything but affordable for Arizonans, and continues on a collision course for disaster,” said Steven Smith, a spokesman for Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, a longtime critic of the law.

Smith said that not enough young people have enrolled for health insurance to sustain the program in the long run. He said in an email that falling unemployment rates in Arizona were more likely to have caused a drop in the number of uninsured than Obamacare.

“It would be a mistake to attribute the decrease in uninsured Arizonans entirely to the ACA,” Smith said.

But Montserrat Caballero said it would be a mistake to attribute the drop to anything but Obamacare.

When asked for the reason behind the improvement in health care coverage, Caballero said simply, “It’s actually the Affordable Care Act.”

Caballero is Arizona state director for Enroll America, which works to get people signed up for health insurance under the law.

“There have been consistent decreases, and we anticipate that these decreases continue,” said Caballero, who said her group is “very happy with the numbers in Arizona.”

The administration said those numbers include 347,772 consumers in Arizona who got just under $11.4 million in rebates, under an ACA requirement that insurers refund money if they spend more than a certain amount on advertising compared to their spending on health benefits and quality.

The White House said 126,506 lower-income Arizonans received a tax break to help pay for health insurance, and that 314,930 more state residents have received Medicaid coverage since the law took effect.

“Across the country we see examples of the Affordable Care Act working, and Arizona is no exception,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, in a statement released by his office Tuesday.

While Obama cited a long list of successes, he also said that more work needs to be done. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell “is talking about all the things we have to do together around delivery system reform.”

And he made another pitch for continuing the law into the future.

“It seems so cynical to want to take coverage away from millions of people; to take care away from people who need it the most; to punish millions with higher costs of care and unravel what’s now been woven into the fabric of America,” Obama said of continued legal challenges to the law.