US & Canada

Obama and Clinton promote 'Obamacare'

Former US President Bill Clinton, left, and President Barack Obama
Image caption The meeting took place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York

US President Barack Obama and his predecessor Bill Clinton have joined forces to promote Mr Obama's healthcare initiative, just days before one of its major provisions takes effect.

In New York, they discussed the law's progress and denounced Republican efforts to stymie its implementation.

Beginning on 1 October, Americans who lack health insurance will be able to buy policies in online market places.

Mr Obama said opponents were trying to "scare" people from signing up.

Even as conservative groups have undertaken a broad effort to undermine the law by persuading people to ignore it, Mr Obama said he was confident Americans would come to see its advantages.

"When people look and see that they can get high-quality, affordable healthcare for less than their cell phone bill, they're going to sign up," Mr Obama said.

The discussion, billed as an interview by Mr Clinton of Mr Obama took place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

It was part of the Clinton Global Initiative, a conference featuring Mr Clinton that he has held regularly since leaving the White House in 2001.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which Mr Obama's Democratic Party passed in 2010 in the face of unified Republican opposition, has been the centrepiece of Mr Obama's domestic policy agenda.

Its provisions include a requirement, which takes effect in January, that individuals who do not have health insurance provided by their employers purchase it on the open market.

On 1 October, online health insurance marketplaces run by the US federal government or by the states will begin accepting customers.

Opposition to the law, which is known to both sides of the debate as Obamacare, has become one of the central tenets of Republican and conservative politics, analysts say.

The House of Representatives, which is controlled by the Republican Party, has held dozens of votes on bills to repeal the law or strip it of funding. The bills have gone nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Universal healthcare

The law has become a central point in the ongoing budget battle, with some Republicans pushing to shut down the operation of the US government by not passing a new budget if the Democrats refuse to defund the law.

On Friday, the House passed a bill that would prevent a government shutdown - but would strip the healthcare law of its funding. And on Tuesday, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas undertook a marathon speech on the floor of the Senate to denounce the law and demand the government block its implementation.

"Those who have opposed the idea of universal healthcare in the first place and have fought this thing tooth and nail through Congress and through the courts and so forth have been trying to scare and discourage people from getting a good deal," Mr Obama said.

On Monday, Mr Clinton asked Mr Obama why he had decided to tackle healthcare reform early in his first term, even as the economy was mired in one of the worst downturns since the Great Depression.

Mr Obama said healthcare was a "massive" part of the American economy, and noted the US was the only advanced industrialised nation that permitted "large numbers of its people to languish without health insurance".

The current US leader also accused congressional Republicans of using the "pretty straightforward" issue as political capital as the government hurdles toward a shutdown on 1 October, when the law funding its operation expires.

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