President Barack Obama vetoed a measure to repeal most of his signature healthcare law on Friday, releasing a statement that extolled the virtues of his biggest domestic policy achievement while excoriating Republicans for trying to dismantle it.
In a message to lawmakers explaining his decision, the president said the bill “would reverse the significant progress we have made in improving health care in America.”
“Health care costs are lower than expected when the law was passed, and health care quality is higher — with improvements in patient safety saving an estimated 87,000 lives,” Obama said in the statement released Friday by the White House.
The veto ends, for now, any chance that the 2010 Affordable Care Act will be undone during Obama’s presidency. Democrats in the House and Senate have enough votes to block an override by the Republican majority.
The House passed the repeal measure Wednesday in a 240-181 vote, the most recent of several dozen votes that body has taken since Republicans won a majority in the 2010 elections. The Senate passed the measure in December.
Obama vetoed the bill shortly after it reached his desk.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said that “it’s no surprise that someone named Obama vetoed a bill repealing Obamacare” and that lawmakers planned to hold an override vote.
“The idea that Obamacare is the law of the land for good is a myth,” the Wisconsin Republican said in a statement Friday. “This law will collapse under its own weight, or it will be repealed.”
In his statement, Obama said his political opponents would take health care away from millions of people without offering a plan for how to replace the coverage. Citing estimates from his economic advisers, he said the repeal bill could cause “potentially more than 10,000 additional deaths” annually.
“This legislation would cost millions of hard-working middle-class families the security of affordable health coverage they deserve,” he said. “Reliable health care coverage would no longer be a right for everyone–it would return to being a privilege for a few.”
While retaining parts of the Affordable Care Act, the legislation would have eliminated penalties for not complying with its requirement that individuals and large employers buy insurance for themselves and their workers. The Obama administration contends that would encourage healthy policyholders to drop coverage, causing a “death spiral” of rate increases for less healthy people who retain their policies.
The bill also would have canceled, in 2018, the law’s expansion of the federal-state Medicaid health program for the poor, as well as subsidies for people who buy insurance coverage through federal or state exchanges.
Both the individual mandate for insurance and the subsidies were subjected to Supreme Court challenges in 2012 and 2015 aimed at dismantling the law. After the court upheld the law, Republicans stepped up their efforts to repeal Obamacare through legislation.
Republicans celebrated the passage of the bill with an enrollment ceremony Thursday, with leaders saying it fulfilled a campaign promise to voters who gave them control of both bodies of Congress in the 2014 elections.
Ryan said sending the repeal bill to Obama’s desk signaled the first of many “big ideas” Republicans would be embracing this year in advance of November elections, to encourage voters to elect a Republican president.
“Next year, if we’re sending this bill to a Republican president, it will get signed into law,” Ryan said. “Obamacare will be gone.”
The legislation passed Wednesday also would have denied federal money for Planned Parenthood, the reproductive health- care organization that Republicans have sought to de-fund since undercover videos purported to show its officials discussing reimbursement for providing tissue from aborted fetuses to medical researchers. Planned Parenthood said it received only the cost of providing the tissue, and it later stopped taking such payments.
Planned Parenthood receives about $450 million in federal funds annually, most of it through Medicaid coverage for healthcare services for the poor. A ban on federally funded abortions has been in place for decades. Bloomberg Philanthropies provides financial support for Planned Parenthood.
About 17.6 million previously uninsured people have gained coverage under Affordable Care Act provisions including expanded Medicaid, marketplace insurance plans, and young people allowed to stay on their parents’ plans through age 26, the Department of Health and Human Services estimated in September.
–With assistance from Kathleen Miller, Billy House and Zachary Tracer.