Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg said the final Obamacare bill would do “absolutely nothing to fix the big health care problems” and also called the program “a disgrace” in comments made in 2010, just months after the law’s passage.
Speaking at Dartmouth College in July of that year, Bloomberg added that law was just “another program that’s going to cost a lot more money.”
It is just one of several comments from Bloomberg identified by CNN’s KFile criticizing the landmark Affordable Care Act in the years following its passage, including saying the bill was “really dysfunctional” and did nothing to solve rising health care costs.
Now, a decade later, as he hopes to become the Democratic presidential nominee, Bloomberg has fully embraced the Affordable Care Act, even proposing an additional “Medicare-like public option” that builds on the law.
At the time Bloomberg made his remarks, the law was seen as a political liability for Democrats, and Republicans were campaigning heavily against the bill on their way to victories in the 2010 midterm elections. Bloomberg, who was initially elected as a Republican, was governing as an independent at the time of his remarks. (He re-registered as a Democrat in 2018.)
“We passed a health care bill that does absolutely nothing to fix the big health care problems in this country. It is just a disgrace,” said Bloomberg at the Dartmouth Presidential Lecture in 2010. “The President, in all fairness, started out by pointing out what the big problems were, but then turned it over to Congress, which didn’t pay any attention to any of those big problems and just created another program that’s going to cost a lot of money.”
“It’s really sad because they say they’ve insured or provided coverage for another 45 million people,” Bloomberg added in the speech. “Except there’s no doctors for 45 million more people and unless they fix immigration and let people who come here for medical education stay here, those people are just going to do the same thing. They’re going to have to go to the emergency rooms where they’ve been except that now it’s going to cost a lot more money.”
Julie Wood, a Bloomberg campaign spokeswoman, told CNN in a statement this week that Bloomberg had supported the bill, but was critical of the approach to pass it.
“Mike Bloomberg’s support for President Obama’s Affordable Care Act couldn’t be clearer – he lobbied for Obamacare but wanted Congress to go further than they did. As he references in these comments about Washington dysfunction, Congress failed to enact the public option that he argued for in 2009 and now proposes as part of his Presidential campaign.”
“It’s clear that our health care system is broken, and that’s why Mike has a plan to expand to build on the ACA and provide universal health coverage while substantially reducing health care costs and expanding access to health services,” Wood said.
The campaign noted Bloomberg’s support of efforts to reform health care in early 2009 and a press release in support of the House version of the Affordable Care Act the day before it was passed. The campaign also pointed to an op-ed Bloomberg wrote in 2009 where he appears to be supportive of the House bill that was being crafted around that time and to a 2013 radio interview of the bill in which Bloomberg said, “Congress passed this, so let’s try it at least.”
“Some parts of Obamacare I don’t think will work, I don’t think is fair, I don’t think is intelligent, whatever. But I don’t have a better answer other than let’s try this,” Bloomberg also said.
None of Bloomberg’s criticism of the bill at the time, however, appeared to cite its lack of a public option for health care.
Health care has emerged as the top issue for voters in the first two Democratic nominating contests, but voters remain divided over whether the future of health care should shift to a government-run Medicare-for-All-style system or expand Obamacare to include a public option. The emphasis on health care raises the stakes for Bloomberg as he paves an unconventional path for the nomination after he sat out of Iowa and New Hampshire.
Today, Bloomberg’s current health care plan praises Obamacare and makes steps to improve health care.
“The ACA made great strides in helping people who don’t get health insurance through an employer afford coverage in the individual market,” reads his health care plan. “Mike would reverse the Trump administration’s attempts at sabotage: He would expand enrollment efforts, restrict the sale of health plans that don’t meet ACA standards, and defend the law against politically motivated lawsuits. He would expand subsidies to cap premiums at 8.5% of a household’s income.”
A history of criticizing Congress
In a December 2009 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, Bloomberg appeared to contradict his own support for the House bill by questioning if Congress had ever read the bill.
“I have asked congressperson after congressperson, not one can explain to me what’s in the bill, even in the House version, certainly not in the other version,” Bloomberg said. “And so for them to vote on a bill that they don’t understand whatsoever, really, you’ve got to question what kind of government we have.”
Bloomberg’s comments critical of Obamacare weren’t limited to the months after the bill’s passage, though they were certainly his harshest.
In an appearance in February 2011, Bloomberg was asked about overcrowding in New York City hospitals.
“It’s going to get worse with the health care bill and with the governor’s cutbacks,” Bloomberg said.
“It’s not addressing the two issues,” Bloomberg added of Obamacare. “Number one, it’s going to bankrupt us. And number two, Europe seems to get more for that money. They say yes and then they go back to taking care of every special interest.”
Wood said the “it” that would bankrupt us was not Obamacare, but health care costs in general.
“Mike said multiple times that the health care system as it existed before Obamacare was going to bankrupt us and was in urgent need of reform – here he’s saying that Obamacare did not fully solve that problem,” she told CNN in an email.
Warning about spiraling costs
In another appearance on a radio program in 2011, Bloomberg again reiterated his criticism that the bill did not solve the basic problems with health care and that health care would “bankrupt us.”
“We’re spending money we don’t have, our health care system is going to bankrupt us,” Bloomberg said. “The last health care bill did not solve the basic problems, two basic problems with health care – which in all fairness – the President, he did say at the very beginning and then that’s what I got lost in all of the negotiations as every special interest in Congress got a piece or lost a piece or negotiated about a piece.”
“The two big problems with health care is that we have a health care system that we just cannot afford. It is going to bankrupt us. It keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” he added. “And number two, you want to provide good health care. And in Western Europe they seem to do it for less than half of what we do it.”
Speaking at a financial industry trade group in 2014, Bloomberg said Obamacare, along with the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill was “really dysfunctional,” according to a CNN report at the time.
“It’s going to take a lot of years to adjust those bills to get to some place you should have been in the beginning,” he said.