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Obama to Catholics on Obamacare: 'We Are in This Together

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Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

After years of clashes with Catholics regarding his signature health care law, President Barack Obama framed Obamacare in Catholic principles Tuesday as the country awaits a Supreme Court ruling that could decide its fate.

The court's coming ruling in King v. Burwell is expected to determine whether residents in the 37 states that do not have state health insurance marketplaces are eligible for federal subsidies.

"We are not going to go backwards. There is something deeply cynical about the attempts to roll back progress," the president said, speaking at the Catholic Health Association's annual conference in Washington, D.C. "Once you see millions of people have health care, once you see all the bad things didn't happen, let's move on. It seems so cynical to take health care away from millions of people."

President Barack Obama speaks about health care reforms and Obamacare during the Catholic Health Association's annual conference in Washington, June 9, 2015. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Obama said the the Affordable Care Act is about what kind of country America wants to be.

"That America is not a place where we simply ignore the poor or turn away from the sick," Obama said. "It’s a place sustained by the idea that I am my brother’s keeper and I am my sister’s keeper. That we have an obligation to put ourselves in our neighbor’s shoes, and to see the common humanity in each other."

Obamacare has been the chief reason for the rift between the administration and Catholic organizations across the country, many which have sued the administration to block the law's mandate for contraception coverage because of their faith-based opposition.

But Obama was speaking before a friendly audience; the Catholic Health Association was among the Catholic groups that backed the law while it was being debated in Congress. "Without your moral force, we would not have succeeded."

Initially, the mandate enforced by the Department of Health and Human Services exempted Catholic parishes and churches, but encompassed Catholic colleges, hospitals and other Christian organizations. The matter eventually led to litigation, notably by the Christian owners of Hobby Lobby, who charged that the mandate violated their religious freedom. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby last year.

Litigation continues in other cases, including four where religious freedom plaintiffs have gotten the upper hand on the administration, according to the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty. The Supreme Court told the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider an earlier decision siding with the government against the Michigan Catholic Conference in a case regarding the HHS mandate. Lower courts have also provided some relief from the mandate to Little Sisters of the Poor in Colorado; Wheaton College in Illinois; Notre Dame University in Indiana; and Archbishop David Zubik and the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The White House contends that five years into the law, 16 million more Americans have health insurance.

“Five years in, what we’re talking about is no longer just a law. This isn’t about the Affordable Care Act. This isn’t about Obamacare,” Obama said. “This isn’t about myths or rumors that won’t go away. This is reality. This is health care in America.”

Addressing other warnings, Obama repeated the words "in reality" to say more people now have insurance they like and that the economy has experienced job growth since the law was passed.

Obama said improvements still need to be made.

""We have to protect the coverage and sign more people up,” Obama said. "We need more governors to expand Medicaid which was part of the overall plan."

Obama said the law has quantifiable success in newly insured people and “the number of lives saved.”

“Then there are the outcomes that are harder to calculate – yes, in the tally of pain and tragedy and bankruptcies that have been averted, but also in the security of a parent who can afford to take her kid to the doctor,” Obama said. “The dignity of a grandfather who can get the preventive care he needs. The freedom of an entrepreneur who can start a new venture. The joy of a wife who thought she’d never again take her husband’s hand and go for a walk in God’s creation.”

Obama noted, "This wasn't easy. There were those who thought health reform was too politically risky."

"For every politician and pundit who said why rush, I hear from working Americans who said they didn't have a moment to wait," he said.

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