On November 7, President Barack Obama made a first tentative stab at an apology for the fact that, despite his often-repeated assurances to the contrary, millions of Americans were losing their health insurance plans as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). "I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me," he told Chuck Todd of NBC News.
The president's reluctant apology was as empty as the promise that he broke. Obama was not sorry for the law or its impact on the health insurance status of millions, which was not only predictable but intended. Nor did he apologize for misleading the public, as he most certainly had. At a press conference the following week, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney struggled to explain what exactly the president was contrite about.
Despite its insufficiency as a mea culpa, the president's interview was a tacit acknowledgement that the disastrous rollout of his signature legislative achievement had produced a crisis of confidence not just in Obama's competence but in his credibility. This development was underscored five days later when a Quinnipiac poll found that 52 percent of Americans no longer trusted him.
In a rambling, unusually reflective press conference on November 14, a weary-looking Obama actually swallowed a bit of crow instead of just picking at it. "I completely get how upsetting [the cancellations] can be for a lot of Americans, particularly after assurances they heard from me that if they had a plan that they liked, they could keep it," he said. "There is no doubt that the way I put that forward unequivocally ended up not being accurate." The president also acknowledged that "we fumbled the rollout on this health care law," saying, "I did not have enough awareness about the problems in the website." He added that "I think it's legitimate for [people] to expect me to have to win back some credibility on this health care law."
But Obama's broken promise that people who liked their health plans could keep them only scratches the surface of the administration's health care mendacity. As the following list illustrates, it was one of at least a dozen false or misleading statements that senior administration officials and ranking Democrats made before, during, and after Obamacare was signed into law. The persistent misrepresentations and outright lies were in fact integral to the law's passage, to its implementation, and to the damage-control phase that began with the botched launch of the online insurance exchanges in October. Judging by how badly the rollout has been managed thus far, it is possible that the president's apology tour has only just begun.
1. "If you like your insurance plan, you will keep it."
The most notorious of Obama's promises was arguably the most critical for Obamacare's passage. Here is how he put it a week after signing the ACA into law: "If you like your insurance plan, you will keep it. No one will be able to take that away from you. It hasn't happened yet. It won't happen in the future."
Obama offered some variation on this promise dozens of times even after the summer 2010 release of rules governing which pre-existing insurance plans would be "grandfathered" into legal acceptability despite not otherwise complying with the new law. Those regulations prompted bureaucrats at the time to quietly estimate that between 40 and 67 percent of individual market health insurance plans would not be covered by the grandfather clause. Indeed, the rules were crafted narrowly to guarantee this result, so that healthy people on low-cost plans would end up switching to more expensive insurance, in effect subsidizing sicker people covered by the policies sold on the exchanges.
Obama's advisers knew full well that his original promise could not be kept. As The Wall Street Journal reported on November 13, the White House policy team pushed for more nuanced language than its political staff wanted. The wonks lost out to the hacks.
Reality: According to a November 4, 2013, report in Politico, more than 3.5 million Americans have been hit with health plan cancellations. Millions more are expected to follow.
2. "What we said was you can keep it if it hasn't changed since the law passed."
It wasn't enough for President Obama to mislead millions of people about whether they could keep their health plans. When initially called out on it, the administration responded with a lie about the lie.
"FACT: Nothing in #Obamacare forces people out of their health plans. No change is required unless insurance companies change existing plans," White House adviser Valerie Jarrett declared in an October 28 Tweet, simply ignoring the reality that the plans being canceled were terminated because of minimum coverage requirements that were built into Obamacare.
Cornered, the president attempted to rewrite history. "If you had one of these plans before the Affordable Care Act came into law and you really liked that plan," he said in a November 4 speech, "what we said was you can keep it if it hasn't changed since the law passed."
Reality: President Obama promised repeatedly, with no caveats or qualifications, that people who liked their plans could keep them, and that no one would ever take them away, period. Versions of the promise were captured on video at least 36 times.