Bill Clinton calls Obamacare 'the craziest thing in the world,' later tries to walk it back

Story highlights

  • Clinton said Obamacare had caused premiums to rise for Americans ineligible for subsidies
  • He also touted his wife's proposal to allow people without access to subsidies to buy into Medicare and Medicaid

Washington (CNN)Bill Clinton criticized President Barack Obama's signature policy reform Monday while on the stump for his wife, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, calling Obamacare "the craziest thing in the world." But he attempted to temper his criticism at a Tuesday rally.

Speaking at a Democratic rally in Flint, Michigan, the former president ripped into the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for flooding the health care insurance market and causing premiums to rise for middle-class Americans who do not qualify for subsidies.
    "So you've got this crazy system where all of a sudden 25 million more people have health care and then the people who 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," Clinton said.
    On Tuesday, he tried to clean up his criticism.
    "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 at a rally in Athens, Ohio. "We, for the first time in our history, at least are providing insurance to more than 90% of our people."
    "But there is a group of people -- mostly small business owners and employees -- who make just a little too much money to qualify for Medicaid expansion or for the tax incentives who can't get affordable health insurance premiums in a lot of places. And the reason is they're not in big pools," Clinton said. "So they have no bargaining power."
    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said Tuesday he bet Clinton "went through hell last night" with his wife, then added: "Honestly, there have been many nights when he's gone through hell with Hillary."
    Bill Clinton, whose efforts with his wife to overhaul health care in the 1990s were stymied by a recalcitrant Congress and the insurance lobby, told the crowd the insurance model "doesn't make sense" and "doesn't work here."
    Touting his wife's proposal to allow people without access to subsidies to buy into Medicare and Medicaid, he also acknowledged that market-based solutions would not solve the country's problems with insurance costs and coverage.
    "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," Clinton said. "But the people that are getting killed in this deal are small business people and individuals who make just a little too much to get any of these subsidies."
    Angel Urena, Clinton's press secretary, defended the former president's stance on Obamacare on Tuesday, saying he had consistently supported the legislation since it was enacted in 2010.
    "President Clinton spoke about the importance of the ACA and the good it has done to expand coverage for millions of Americans. And while he was slightly short-handed, it's clear to everyone, including President Obama, that improvements are needed," Urena said in a statement.
    The White House said again Tuesday there were changes they would like to see made to the ACA.
    "President Obama has of course acknowledged that with cooperation from Democrats and Republicans in Congress, there are some things that could be done to further strengthen the law. That's something that Sec. Clinton has vowed to pursue if she is elected President of the United States," press secretary Josh Earnest said in a briefing.
    But he insisted Obamacare remains a top accomplishment of the president's tenure.
    "The Affordable Care Act continues to be a source of pride for people who work here in the administration in terms of that significant legislative accomplishment. That's essentially our position," Earnest said. "You'd have to talk to President Clinton about exactly what message he was trying to send."
    When asked whether the former president went too far in his criticism against the ACA, Earnest responded he's "not sure what argument (Clinton) was making."
    And when asked if he wished Clinton hadn't used "crazy" or "craziest" to describe Obamacare, Earnest said, "Of course."