WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump was simply saying nice things to an ally when he called Australia's universal healthcare system better than the U.S. system, and he does not think his country should adopt a similar approach, the White House said on Friday.
"The president was complimenting a foreign leader on the operations of their healthcare system," White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a news briefing. "It didn't mean anything more than that."
Trump raised eyebrows when he told Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Thursday in New York, "You have better health care than we do."
Trump spoke shortly after he led a White House rally with Republicans from the House of Representatives, who had just passed legislation to overturn much of former President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law and move further away from a guarantee of universal coverage.
That measure, opposed by Democrats, must clear the Senate before Trump can sign it into law.
"Of course the Australians have better healthcare than we do - everybody does," Trump tweeted on Friday. "ObamaCare is dead! But our healthcare will soon be great."
Independent scorekeepers at the Congressional Budget Office have not yet analysed the bill, but they estimated an earlier version would have led to 24 million fewer Americans with insurance coverage than under current law.
Australia's government plays a larger role in its health system. The country provides free hospital treatment and subsidized medical care for all residents through a publicly funded programme. Roughly half of Australians choose to buy private coverage, which provides them with greater choices.
Huckabee Sanders said Trump's remarks do not mean he thinks the United States should adopt a similar system.
"I think he believes that they have a good healthcare system for Australia," she said. "What works in Australia may not work in the United States."
(In third paragraph, corrects name of Australian prime minister)
Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Cynthia Osterman