At CPAC, Trump praises individual mandate rollback, pans McCain for vote against 'skinny repeal'

Donald Trump speaking
President Donald Trump touched on healthcare during his CPAC speech on Friday. (Gage Skidmore/CC BY-SA 2.0)

In a CPAC speech, President Donald Trump lauded Republicans' repeal of the individual mandate and took a shot at Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain for his role in a failed rollback of the Affordable Care Act. 

Trump told the Conservative Political Action Conference Friday that the ACA's individual mandate unfairly punished the uninsured, making its elimination a major victory. 

"I know people came up to me with tears in their eyes; they're saying, I'm forced to pay not to have healthcare," Trump said. 

The individual mandate was repealed as part of the GOP's tax reform package in December. The successful rollback of the mandate followed multiple attempts at repealing the ACA—either in whole or in part—that stalled in Congress. 

RELATED: What health insurance executives think of the GOP's plan to repeal the individual mandate 

Trump said the ACA is being eliminated "piece by piece" instead of all at once, and repeated a claim he's made previously that the individual mandate repeal essentially wipes out the healthcare law.

He said that people may "be better off" with a piecemeal approach to breaking down the law.

Repealing the mandate eliminated a key element of the ACA that was included to push more healthy people in the ACA's insurance exchanges and create a more balanced risk pool, leading to lower premiums. However, it's not tantamount to a full repeal, as experts are divided on how effective the mandate was in accomplishing that goal in the first place—people were more drawn into the marketplace by subsidies on plans, which are still in effect, than the tax penalty, it seems. 

Trump echoed similar claims during his State of the Union address, saying the GOP has "repealed the core of the disastrous Obamacare." 

RELATED: Special Report—8 ways to fix the Affordable Care Act 

The president also took a swipe at McCain, who voted against the Senate's "skinny repeal" in dramatic fashion last summer with a late-night thumbs down gesture. 

Trump said he "didn't want to be controversial" by calling out McCain by name, but referenced the gesture. 

"Except for one senator, who came into the room at 3 o'clock in the morning and went like that," he said, imitating McCain's thumbs-down vote, "we would have had healthcare, too," Trump said, followed by a chorus of boos aimed at McCain from the conference crowd. 

That didn't go over well with some, including McCain's daughter, who called the booing "inexcusable," although former CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt noted that the elder McCain can probably take whatever anyone dishes out. 

A full video of Trump's CPAC speech is embedded below: