Former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday outlined the benefits of the federal health-care overhaul in a speech from his presidential center in Little Rock.
Clinton took the stage shortly after 10:30 a.m., telling the invitation-only crowd of about 300 that he would present an argument in favor of the overhaul and point out how Arkansas politicians worked together in a bipartisan way to do "remarkable work" on health care.
Clinton urged those opposing the law from the left and the right to work together because the Affordable Care Act is the "best chance for nearly universal coverage." He listed its benefits in detail and said it would provide improved care for more people.
"It's better than the current system which is unavoidable and downright unhealthy for millions of Americans," Clinton said, noting later that problems do need to still be addressed: "You can't change a complex ecosystem like American health care this much without creating some problems. So there are some. But they can best be solved if we all work together to fix them."
Clinton praised the solution in Arkansas to expand Medicaid coverage through private health-insurance plans, which he noted was reached through an initiative led by Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe and ultimately supported by Republican leaders in the legislature.
"My view is Arkansas did a good thing, a bipartisan thing, a practical thing," he said. "It will help a lot of people. And the rest of us ought to get behind them."
Declining to expand Medicaid and refusing the federal money is akin to turning down federal highway funds, Clinton said. But he added states including Texas, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania have "so far" opted not to expand Medicaid.
"You'd think if someone said that they were three bricks shy of a full load," Clinton said. "It doesn't make any sense for us to do that. And it will aggravate the burden of uncompensated care substantially."
Before the overhaul, the U.S. was first "by a country mile" in percentage of gross domestic product spent on health care at 17.9 percent, Clinton said, noting countries like Switzerland and the Netherlands were at 12 percent.
Health outcome rankings, meanwhile, have the U.S. between 25th and 33rd in the world.
"The difference between 17.9 percent and 12 percent is $1 trillion a year," he said. "A trillion dollars that could go to pay raises, or to hire new employees or to make investments that would make our economy grow faster or to provide more capital to start small businesses or to expand others or to support diversifying and strengthening agriculture. You name it. A trillion dollars is a lot of money to spot our competitors in a highly competitive global economy."
Clinton, who took the stage less than a month before the Oct. 1 implementation of health-care marketplaces under the federal law, closed his speech calling on opponents to focus on fixing problems in the act rather than trying to repeal it.
"We all get paid to show up for work," Clinton said. "And we need all hands on deck here. The health of our people, the security and stability of our families and the strength of our economy are all riding on getting health care reform right and doing it well. That means we have to do it together."
For more on Clinton's speech, see Thursday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.