In context: Bill Clinton's remarks on health care

Former President Bill Clinton reaches out to shake hands after speaking to nearly 500 people on Oct. 3, 2016, at Northbank Center in Flint, Mich. (Jake May/Flint Journal via AP)
Former President Bill Clinton reaches out to shake hands after speaking to nearly 500 people on Oct. 3, 2016, at Northbank Center in Flint, Mich. (Jake May/Flint Journal via AP)

Is former president Bill Clinton one of Donald Trump’s best surrogates? Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, joked that he might be, following comments on health care policy on Oct. 3 that were quickly seized upon by Republican opponents of the Affordable Care Act, sometimes known as Obamacare.

Trump, speaking at a rally in Prescott, Ariz., said Clinton "came out and told the truth" about the law when he "absolutely trashed" it, adding, "I bet he went through hell last night" with his wife, the Democratic presidential nominee.

It’s understandable why critics of the law would leverage the remarks of a former Democratic president -- and spouse of the Democratic nominee -- for their cause.

But in context, it’s also worth noting that Clinton’s actual comments never mentioned the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. In fact, as we reviewed the transcript, we noticed that much of what Clinton said addressed issues that pre-dated the 2010 health care law, including concerns about high costs and a lack of guaranteed coverage.

We’re not fact-checking any of the claims from Clinton’s comments, but we did want to provide his entire remarks. The whole speech can be seen here, with the relevant portion roughly between 25:45 and 28:30.

Now the next thing is, we got to figure out what to do now on health care. Her opponent said, "‘Oh, just repeal it all. The market will take care of it.’" That didn’t work out very well for us, did it? We wound up with the most expensive system in the world and we insured the smallest percentage of people. On the other hand, the current system works fine if you’re eligible for Medicaid, if you’re a lower income working person, if you’re already on Medicare, or if you get enough subsidies on a modest income that you can afford your health care.

But the people that are getting killed in this deal are small businesspeople and individuals who make just a little too much to get any of these subsidies. Why? Because they’re not organized, they don’t have any bargaining power with insurance companies, and they’re getting whacked. So you’ve got this crazy system where all of a sudden, 25 million more people have health care and then the people that are out there busting it, sometimes 60 hours a week, wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half. It’s the craziest thing in the world.

So here’s the simplest thing ― you raise your hands and you think about it ― here’s the simplest thing: Figure out an affordable rate and let people use that ― something that won’t undermine your quality of life, won’t interfere with your ability to make expenses, won’t interfere with your ability to save money for your kid’s college education. And let people buy in to Medicare or Medicaid.

Here’s why. You can let people buy in for just a little bit because unlike where you are now, if you were on the other side of this, if you were an insurer, you’d say, ‘Gosh, I only got 2,000 people in this little pool. Eighty percent of the insurance costs every year come from 20 percent of the people. If I get unlucky in the pool, I’ll lose money.’ So they overcharge you just to make sure, and on good years, they just make a whopping profit from the people who are least able to pay it.

It doesn’t make any sense. The insurance model doesn’t work here. It’s not like life insurance, it’s not like casualties, it’s not like predicting flooding. It doesn’t work. So Hillary believes we should simply let people who are above the line for getting these subsidies have access to affordable entry into the Medicare and Medicaid programs. They’ll all be covered. It will not hurt the program. We will not lose a lot of money. And we ought to do it. That’s what’s in it for you.

Clinton later clarified his remarks at an event in Athens, Ohio, according to NBC News.

"Look, the Affordable Health Care Act did a world of good, and the 50-something efforts to repeal it that the Republicans have staged were a terrible mistake," Clinton said. "We for the first time in our history at least are providing insurance to more than 90 percent of our people."