Obama’s White House return met with jokes, laughs as Biden announces new actions on health care

TheGrio was there for all the action inside the Affordable Care Act event as former President Obama reunited publicly with his friend and former VP, President Biden.

(L-R) Vice President Kamala Harris, U.S. President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama participate an event to mark the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act in the East Room of the White House on April 05, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Former President Barack Obama was back at his old White House stomping grounds on Tuesday as he delivered remarks along with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on his signature Affordable Care Act (ACA) law that he signed 12 years ago. 

President Obama was met with roaring applause as he, Biden and Harris entered the East Room filled with members of Congress, administration officials, guests and the press – including theGrio.

At the White House event, the Biden-Harris administration announced new actions to make health care more affordable for American families, including strengthening the “family glitch” rule for employer-based health insurance and an executive order directing federal agencies to use maximum resources to expand affordable, quality health coverage.

While the issue of health coverage is a serious one for the tens of millions of uninsured Americans, the event was not without laughs incited by former President Obama. As he opened his remarks, Obama called Biden “Vice President Biden” before trailing off and acknowledging that he was joking. He walked over to Biden to give him a handshake and hug before clarifying that Biden was indeed “my president.”

Other witty quips from the former commander-in-chief included joking that President Biden had made some changes since he was last in the White House, including making it a rule for Secret Service agents to wear Biden’s signature aviator glasses and replacing a White House dining room with a Baskin-Robbins as it is known how much President Biden loves ice cream.

“Coming back, even if I have to wear a tie – which I very rarely do these days – gives me a chance to visit with some of the incredible people who served this White House and who serve this country every single day,” Obama said during his remarks. “But most of all, coming back here gives me a chance to say thank you and spend some time with an extraordinary friend and partner who was by my side for eight years.”

(L-R) U.S. President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama embrace during an event to mark the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act in the East Room of the White House on April 5, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Obama recalled the days leading up to and that followed his signing of the Affordable Care Act in 2009, acknowledging the political battle he waged with Republicans who vehemently opposed the federal health care overhaul.

Speaking to the opposition from the GOP, he added, “It’s fair to say that most Republicans showed little interest in working with us to get anything done.”

Despite the antagonism from Republicans, Obama emphasized that his signature law was “an example of why you run for office in the first place.” 

“We’re not supposed to do this just to occupy a seat or to hang on to power. We’re supposed to do this because it’s making a difference in the lives of the people who sent us here,” he said. “It was a high point of my time here because it reminded me and reminded us of what’s possible.”

President Obama also referenced a viral comment then-Vice President Biden made on a hot mic about the Affordable Care Act when it was first signed into law: “This is a big f**king deal.”

“If you can get millions of people health coverage and better protection, it is to quote a famous American, a pretty big deal,” Obama quipped.

Obama praised President Biden for dedicating his life to public service, saying, “I could not be more honored to be here with him as he writes the next chapter in our story of progress.”

In his remarks, President Biden returned the love to Obama, who he had lunch with before Tuesday’s event. He joked, “we weren’t sure who was supposed to sit where.”

Acknowledging the name that Republicans initially gave the Affordable Care Act in an attempt to disparage the bill but ultimately became synonymous with the health care law, Biden said, “Let’s be honest, the Affordable Care Act has been called a lot of things, but Obamacare is the most fitting.”

President Biden went on to announce that the administration would be improving upon the ACA law by fixing a restriction known as the “family glitch,” and signed an executive order to strengthen the ACA by urging federal agencies to review a host of already ordered actions, including ensuring consumer understanding of their coverage options, easy enrollment, among other actions.

Explaining the family glitch that the Biden-Harris administration is now bolstering, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, explained to theGrio, “in the original law of the Affordable Care Act, there’s a restriction that if you have what’s called affordable coverage by your employer, then you can’t buy coverage with subsidies…with tax credits on the marketplace.”

“Say a wife has affordable coverage for herself, but it’s not affordable for her husband and her children — they could not buy coverage. That’s what this action will change.”

CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure speaks while taking a tour of CVS on Auburn St. in Portland Thursday, October 14, 2021. (Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Brooks-LaSure, who previously worked in the Obama administration and helped implement Obamacare, said “it was just so moving” to see the former president return to the White House.

“His leadership on the Affordable Care Act [and] getting it passed was so meaningful and he just has such a strong sense of the right thing to do for our country. It was wonderful to see him come back and celebrate the incredible gains that we’ve made over the last 12 years,” she told theGrio.

Administrator Brooks-LaSure noted that President Biden’s move to strengthen the law Obama helped build would lower premiums for a million Americans and provide coverage for 200,000 uninsured individuals. She also emphasized a stat that there was a “35% increase in the number of Black Americans in coverage this year, over last year.”

“I really think so much of it was because of our increased outreach efforts and the increased subsidies that made the coverage so much more affordable,” she said.

Secretary of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra, also briefly chatted with theGrio about the ACA’s benefits for Black and Brown communities. 

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra testifies before Senate Finance Committee on Capitol Hill, April 5, 2022 in Washington, DC. Becerra is testifying on the HHS fiscal year 2023 budget request for the Department of Health and Human Services. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

“If you think about it, usually it’s the Black and Brown families that are on the edge, the edge of getting covered the edge of losing their coverage. President Biden made it possible for all those who are on the edge to actually have firm ground. That’s why so many Black and Brown families actually ended up getting quality health care insurance coverage through the Affordable Care,” Secretary Becerra told theGrio

“When you can buy a plan of coverage where the only thing you’re paying is 10 bucks a month in premiums… You can’t even go see a movie for $10 for one night. That was made available for a lot of families. A lot of families like mine, who when I was growing up could not have afforded a full lot.”

Becerra noted the call to action led by President Biden for his agency and others to prioritize equity in their services to the American public.

“One thing the president said to us is we’re going to do everything we can to make sure there’s fairness and inclusion,” he told theGrio. “That health equity, which we haven’t seen in a long time, permeates everything that we do.”

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