In an apparent response to heightened Republican criticism, the
president also asserted that the law known as Obamacare will be
"good for" the U.S. economy, despite a recent government estimate
that it will shrink the labor force by the equivalent of 2.5 million
full-time workers over the next decade.
"Our goal here is not to punish folks. Our goal is to make sure that
we've got people who can count on the financial security that health
insurance provides," Obama said at a joint news conference with
French President Francois Hollande.
Obama was speaking a day after his administration announced a new
delay in a contentious requirement that all but the smallest
businesses provide health coverage for their full-time employees or
pay a tax penalty.
New regulations give medium-sized businesses an additional year to
comply and phase in the same requirement for large employers.
Republicans in Congress responded to Monday's announcement by
renewing calls for a delay in the law's individual mandate, which
requires most Americans to enroll in health insurance by March 31 of
this year or pay a penalty. The White House rejects any such delay
as a move that would undermine the law.
Obama said the latest change brings the employer mandate into line
with the existing approach for individual consumers, including lower
income people who qualify for a tax credit and other subsidies to
help pay for insurance.
"That's consistent with what we've done with the individual
mandate," the president told reporters.
"Even with the tax credits, in some cases they still can't afford
it, and we have hardship exemptions, phase-ins, to make sure that
nobody is unnecessarily burdened," Obama said.
"That's going to be our attitude about the law generally: how do we
make it work for the American people and for their employers in an
optimal sort of way," he added.
Obama and his fellow Democrats are locked in an escalating debate
with Republicans at the start of a congressional midterm election
campaign that will determine which party controls Congress.
Representative Fred Upton, Republican chairman of the House Energy
and Commerce Committee that oversees healthcare issues, accused the
president of ignoring troubling issues that face some individuals
under Obamacare, including higher insurance costs and narrow
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"If the goal is smoothing out the hardships created by this law, the
least he should do is support fairness for all Americans with a
delay of the individual mandate," Upton said in a statement on
Republicans hope to use Obamacare's lack of popularity with voters
to erode support for Democratic candidates, especially vulnerable
incumbent senators whose seats could help the Republican Party take
the Senate in November.
The rocky rollout of Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care
Act has been a boon to Republicans. The law suffered technical
glitches that temporarily paralyzed the federal website
HealthCare.gov last year, and Obama faced a public outcry over
millions of private health insurance policyholders who had their
plans canceled because they do not comply with the law's new quality
Late last year, the White House responded to cancellations by
allowing individuals to renew non-compliant plans and by offering
"hardship exemptions" from the individual mandate to some unable to
Another controversy arose last week when the nonpartisan
Congressional Budget Office said the healthcare law would lead to a
loss of work hours as some workers, particularly low-wage earners,
restrain their work participation in order to keep federal subsidies
to help pay for healthcare.
Republicans saw the report as evidence that Obamacare is bad for the
economy and business. Democrats including Obama have sought to cast
the findings in positive terms by saying they show that some will no
longer need to work extra hours to pay for healthcare.
"It's giving people more flexibility and more opportunity to do what
makes sense for them, and ultimately, I think that's going to be
good for our economy," Obama said.
(Reporting by David Morgan; editing by Karey Van Hall and Chris
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