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Obama says 8.5m will get rebates from their insurers

President insists law is producing tangible benefits

In his return to the debate over his health care law, President Obama seized on statistics that show the law is driving down premiums in several states.

Charles Dharapak/Associated Press

In his return to the debate over his health care law, President Obama seized on statistics that show the law is driving down premiums in several states.

WASHINGTON — President Obama, slipping back into his episodic role as a vigorous campaigner for his health care act, said Thursday that thanks to the law, more than 8.5 million Americans were getting rebates this summer from their insurance providers.

Obama was flanked by families who have benefited from a provision in the law, which requires health insurers to spend at least 80 percent of the revenue from premiums on medical care rather than on administrative costs. Insurers who fail to meet that benchmark must reimburse customers, a process that began in 2012.

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“Last year, millions of Americans opened letters from their insurance companies, but instead of the usual dread that comes with getting a bill, they were pleasantly surprised with a check,” Obama said in a midday ceremony at the White House.

The checks typically amount to no more than a few hundred dollars. But the president, recounting stories of middle-class families arrayed on the stage behind him, celebrated these modest windfalls as an early sign of the tangible benefits of the law.

For Obama, it was a high-profile return to a debate in which his voice has sometimes seemed like it was missing. For example, he has said nothing publicly about the administration’s decision to delay for a year a part of the law dealing with employer-provided insurance.

With the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voting yet again this week to repeal the Affordable Care Act, however, he seized on new statistics that demonstrate the law is driving down premiums in New York, California, and several other states.

The Department of Health and Human Services just released a report asserting that, in 11 states and the District of Columbia, proposed health insurance premiums for 2014 are nearly 20 percent lower than the administration projected.

Thursday’s carefully choreographed event in the East Room was intended to put the White House back on the offensive on health care, after a messy period following its decision to delay requiring employers with more than 50 employees to offer health insurance or pay a penalty.

The delay came after heavy pressure from businesses, which said the law was too complex and cumbersome to implement on time, and it provided critics with fresh ammunition for their claim that the law was putting unfair burdens on individuals and employers.

Republicans did not let up Thursday, claiming that the benefits extolled by Obama would be more than offset by higher costs. In some cases, they did not even wait for him to speak.

“Even though we expect the president today to tout about $500 million of these types of refunds, what he won’t say is that next year Obamacare will impose a new sales tax on the purchase of health insurance that will cost Americans about $8 billion,” said Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “That’s a 16-to-1 ratio!”

In a statement after Obama spoke, House Speaker John A. Boehner said: “The picture the president paints of his health care law looks nothing like the reality facing struggling American families. They know that the law is turning out to be a train wreck.”

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