Seven Empty Promises About ObamaCare

The president is still struggling to sell his plan.


Just weeks before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)—a.k.a ObamaCare—passed, President Barack Obama urged congressional Democrats to make a final push for the bill, and asked them to schedule a vote as quickly as they could. "From now until then, I will do everything in my power to make the case for reform," he said.

The bill passed, but the case didn't take. Since Obama signed the bill into law, its unpopularity has, according to Pollster.com's multi-poll aggregate, held steady, with roughly 48 percent of the public opposed. Liberal health care activists trying to sell the law and help its supporters in Congress have been forced to backtrack on their messaging—and in some cases, have found that their best strategy is to avoid mentioning the law at all. Now, the Obama administration and its allies are launching a multimillion dollar ad campaign intended to sell the public on the law's virtues.

The president and his administration, it seems, are still doing everything they can to make the case for reform. The problemn is that so much of that case isn't likely to pay off. Here are seven empty promises made about ObamaCare:

1. If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.
In June of 2009, President Obama gave a press conference where he explained his frequent promise that those who like their health care plans can keep their health care plans. "What I'm saying is, the government is not going to make you change plans under health reform," he said. So in order to ensure health plan continuity, the law included a "grandfathering" provision that allows employers and insurers to continue offering plans that already exist without subjecting them to new rules and regulations. But the requirements that plans must meet in order to keep their grandfathered status are particularly strict. And in a draft document laying out grandfathering rules, the administration admitted that "after some period of time, most plans will relinquish their grandfathered status." Meanwhile, the new law may also force more than 3 million seniors to switch their Medicare drug plans, regardless of whether they like them or not.

2. It will put Medicare on better fiscal footing.
In August 2010, the Obama administration's Department of Health and Human Services released a report claiming that the PPACA would "extend the life of the Medicare Trust Fund by 12 years." Later, Obama's Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, told ABC News that her view is "supported" by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). It's not. Instead, the CBO said that "to describe the full amount of HI trust fund savings as both improving the government's ability to pay future Medicare benefits and financing new spending outside of Medicare would essentially double-count a large share of those savings." This view is backed up by Medicare's top actuary as well, who has written that "in practice the improved (Medicare hospital insurance) financing cannot be simultaneously used to finance other Federal outlays (such as the coverage expansions) and to extend the trust fund."

3. It will cost around $900 billion.
In September 2009, Obama told a joint session of Congress that his health care plan would cost "around $900 billion over ten years." The CBO's final cost estimate for the law came in at about $950 billion—close enough to the president's figure for government work, perhaps—but a report from the CBO later estimated that the law will actually require about $115 billion in additional discretionary spending, putting the official price tag well over $1 trillion.

4. It won't cut Medicare benefits.
At a 2009 AARP panel, President Obama brushed away the idea that his health care plan might cut Medicare benefits, telling the audience that "nobody's talking about reducing Medicare benefits." But according to the head of the Congressional Budget Office, thanks to $130 billion in planned cuts to companies that offer Medicare Advantage plans, the health care law will "reduce the extra benefits that would be made available to beneficiaries through Medicare Advantage plans." Roughly 25 percent of Medicare recipients use Medicare Advantage plans. One can argue about whether or not the government should be reducing Medicare benefits, but it's simply not true that no one in the program will lose the benefits they currently have.

5. It will be paid for "mostly" by shifting around money that we're already spending.
One of the least popular aspects of the PPACA was its sky high cost. The president tried to combat this by saying that, although the bill would cost "about $100 billion per year," most of that money would "come from the nearly $2 trillion a year that America already spends on health care." Actually, the majority of the money from the bill's official scored cost comes from new taxes. According to the CBO, "the two pieces of legislation [that make up the health care law] were estimated to increase mandatory outlays by $401 billion and raise revenues by $525 billion."

6. It will give consumers more access and greater choice.
Organizing for America, the successor to Obama's campaign organization, claims that the new health care law will result in "more choices…for millions of Americans." But early signs indicate that, as a result of the law, patients and consumers will have fewer options for doctors and health insurance. Most experts, for example, expect that the health care overhaul will result in a serious doctor shortage, particularly amongst primary care phsyicians, meaning many individuals will have to wait longer for care, and may not get to see the doctor they want to see. Meanwhile, insurers in some states are already cutting back on insurance options.

7. It will bring down the price of insurance.
Just a few days before the final law passed, Obama said that "my proposal would bring down the cost of health care for millions." And health care affordability was so crucial to the president's argument that the word made it into the title of the bill: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. So will health care costs come down? Not likely. The CBO predicted that the law will cause average health insurance premium prices to rise by 10-13 percent in the individual market. And a recent survey indicates that most businesses expect insurance prices to rise as a result of the PPACA. Perhaps Obama meant that the law would "bend the cost curve" and reduce the growing cost of health care? Even if he did, it wouldn't matter; that's not likely either. In June of 2009, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf warned Congress that its proposals would bend the curve in the wrong direction. And in a May 2010 presentation at the Institute of Medicine, Elmendorf declared that in the CBO's judgment, "the health legislation enacted earlier this year does not substantially diminish [the] pressure" of rising health costs.

Peter Suderman is an associate editor at Reason magazine.

NEXT: JFK vs. BHO on Tax Cuts During Recessions

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  1. You’re saying the president is lying! Only rightwingers lie! Liberals NEVER lie! And I’m never posting at this websight again!

  2. What the president lied? That would never happen.

  3. The King of Empty Promises. Much funnier than Barry Bummer.

    1. “Slipped my mind.”

      Classic. I saw them live, you know. Pretty good, and they were drinking beer throughout the whole thing, which actually made it all funnier.

      1. I wanted to see them, but $55 was too rich for my blood, especially since they were essentially doing a “greatest hits” show.

      2. Saw them live too in Montreal.


    2. Can anyone top Pelosi saying: “You hae to pass this bill to find out what’s in it.”?

    3. B.O.:Tell ya what I’ll do, I’ll let you keep your old health care plan and bring down the price like we talked about then I’ll extend medicare without cutting benies and pay for it all by cutting waste and fraud and I’ll tell you what else, ya know that increased access and greater choice you’ve been asking about? I’ll give you that too.

      Taxpayer: Promise?

      B.O.:Will do

  4. Shhhhhhh…let Democrats continue to believe their greatest problem is they just haven’t worked hard enough to get their message out.

  5. Silly people talking about results.

    Only intentions matter.

    It’s all in the name of the bill: Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

    That means it is intended to protect patients and provide affordable care.

    See? The intentions are good and that’s all that matters.

  6. When does an “empty promise” become a “lie”?

    1. When it’s made by someone from the other tribe.

  7. Is there anything good about this bill? I defy any liberal to name one good thing this bill has accomplished.

    1. Team Blue is now under 2 months away from a historic beatdown. Thats a good thing, although I’m not sure liberals see it that way.

    2. Tony established back in March that the bill will not anally rape you:

      Tony|3.10.10 @ 12:22PM|#

      Shouldn’t the GOP be scared stupid that we’ll have 7 months or so after the bill passes wherein the people will realize that they’re not, in fact, being forcibly sodomized by this legislation?

      Tony|3.10.10 @ 12:41PM|#

      Republicans on HCR: “This bill will cut your granny’s medicare before killing her in a death panel, after having sodomized everyone’s throats.” Repeat ad nauseum.

      John Thacker|3.10.10 @ 12:50PM|#

      Tony on HCR: “I can’t actually defend this bill on any basis other than it doesn’t forcibly sodomize people.”

      1. Tony is a fuckwad.

      2. Frankly real mass anal rape rather than a metaphorical one sounds better than this bill. At least anal rape would be fun for the few people who are into that kind of thing. I can’t figure out anyone who will enjoy this metaphorical rape.

    3. It came within inches of giving that hag Pelosi a heart attack.

    4. Through the health insurance exchanges, the bill will socialize the risk of being chronically sick. This risk is already socialized for people in the employer insurance pool, the VA system, Medicare, and Medicaid. This extends this basic moral act to people without access to these other systems. This is a good thing about the health bill.

  8. Now, the Obama administration and its allies are launching a multimillion dollar ad campaign intended to sell the public on the law’s virtues.

    Is there no end to this arrogant foolishness?! I h-word that foes of the administration are launching a YouTube campaign against the ad campaign — and, if tax dollars are funding it, a lawsuit.

    1. Did you sensor the word “hate”?

      1. He used a more… audacious word that has now been associated with a campaign most freedom-oriented people despise.

        1. still not gettin’ it…

          1. come on.. audacious, campaign slogan..

            hint: The Audacity of ______, a book by Barack Obama

            1. Ohhhh! So Hope is a dirty word now. I feel like gramps when he found out we don’t call ’em “colored” anymore.

      2. I was initially confused by your comment, but now I can see what the census.

  9. The CBO’s final cost estimate for the law came in at about $950 billion . . . but a report from the CBO later estimated that the law will actually require about $115 billion in additional discretionary spending, putting the official price tag well over $1 trillion.

    That may be the “official price tag,” but keep in mind that the costs of the law go beyond what the government writes checks for.

    1. How many government bills actually come in on cost? Does the CBO provide more accurate estimates? I’d heard somewhere that they are pretty good at being non-partisan but are constrained by the original assumptions made by politicians. Anybody provide enlightenment on that?

      1. Veronique de Rugy addressed your question in February, and Jacob Sullum talked about the price of Medicare back in 2003. I’m sure you can find much more if you search the Reason archives.

        1. But, but, that would mean working hard & doing something myself. Much easier to ask someone else for the info.

          Seriously, thanks for the links

    2. One important fact left out is that the “over ten years” part is also disingenuous. The “ten years” counter started when the bill passed, but the bill doesn’t start doing anything for 4 years. The real number that people assume you mean when they hear “over ten years” would be from 2014-2023. That number is more like $2 trillion.

  10. Speaking of our pending bankruptcy, this article on Greece is the best thing I have read in a long time. I sent it to hit and run, but they don’t always read those.


    1. I read that. Kind of the obvious outcome where everybody believes in benefits that are simply legislated into existence without any acknowledgement that the benefits have to be funded.

      1. Not just funded, they have to be created.

        1. That is, produced by productive effort.

  11. Sick people will feel even sicker when they discover that ObamaCare requires doctors to “Tweet” their patients instead of office visits. SHOCKING story at:


    Peace! 🙂

  12. I feel better just knowing the Ascended One has granted me free unlimited health care and life everlasting.

    I almost have the stable for my pony finished, Your Beneficence.

  13. So what? It passed and there are lots of gullible people out there who will believe us when we say that repealing it will cause them to die in the gutter, even when the GOP doesn’t have the balls to repeal it, anyway.

    Either way, WE WIN!

    We will have a majority, FOREVER AND EVER EVER AND EVER!!!!



  14. this dude is seriously racist.

    1. In the future, we will all be racist for 15 minutes.

  15. We just got this e-mail at work:

    The Patient Protection and Affordable Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 established a number of modifications that impacted employee benefit programs. One provision of the Act affected over-the-counter (OTC) purchases for FSA (Flexible Spending Accounts), HRA (Health Reimbursement Arrangements) and HSA (Health Savings Accounts) participants. Effective January 1, 2011, over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and drugs will require a directive from a provider in order to be eligible for reimbursement.

    The list of items now requiring a prescription, if you want to pay with your FSA,HRA or HSA:

    Acid Controllers, Baby Rash Ointments, Laxatives,Allergy & Sinus medicine, Cold Sore Remedies, Motion Sickness,Antibiotic Products, Cough, Cold & Flu, Pain Relief,Anti-Diarrheals, Digestive Aids, Respiratory Treatments,Anti-Gas, Feminine Anti-Fungal/Anti-Itch, Sleep Aids & Sedatives,Anti-Itch & Insect Bite, Hemorrhoidal Preps, Stomach Remedies.

    SO….I can still pay for dramamine or Tums with my FSA, I just need a prescription.

    WTF ?

    1. That will definitely reduce health care spending.

    2. Anti-Gas???
      Hmmm…maybe I misjudged the health care bill. This will be a great benefit to humanity. Not to me, I just let ’em rip, but for the people near me, I think they will be very grateful for the provision of anti-gas medicine to me.
      Campaign AD: We saved you from farts!!!

      1. No. Previously you could buy OTC medicines and use your FSA to pay. This change makes it more difficult. It means you need a prescription for an over the counter medicine. Get it. Their called OTC ’cause you don’t NEED A PRESCRIPTION.

        I’m doctors can write scrips for OTC meds in their spare time.

      2. Coming to a climate-change bill near you.

    3. Feminine Anti-Fungal/Anti-Itch

      But Masculine Anti-Fungal/Anti-Itch is still covered?!

      Those fuckers!

    4. What a hooter! I’m sure Doctors will be thrilled to write scripts for OTC meds!

    5. It’s effectively a tax increase.

      1. FSA’s and the like allow the individual to make choices. This change makes it more difficult to exercise that choice. Individuals shouldn’t make health care choices, that’s for leaders with plans.

  16. I don’t know much about the CBO, so I have a question: How is it that when the President or members of congress talk about the supposed price tag of some new bill, often times the CBO releases contradictory information or statements about the actual price tag? Are they a bunch of unaffiliated accountants? Why doesn’t the President’s staff clamp down on it, and how is the CBO info not a regular part of the news? I don’t often see contradictory statements coming out of, say, the Pentagon, when the President says something about the various wars. I’ll take my answer off the air. (Yes, I read the CBO wiki page that says it is “nonpartisan.”)

    1. That “C” is a big indicator. They report to (and for) Congress, not the President, who has the GAO.

    2. I know a guy who works for the CBO. They are a bunch of very sober, buttoned-down accountants who are more familiar with the budget than Reason, and therefore even more terrified. But they are limited in what they are allowed to say.

    3. The CBO is nonpartisan and does an excellent job, but they have to work within the parameters provided by Congress. Costs are calculated over 10 years, so if a bill (like this one) has 10 years of taxes but only 6 of benefits, then the numbers will be skewed and there is nothing the CBO can do about it. Also, they have to assume that raising taxes by 10% will provide 10% more revenue, even though historically that has not been the case.

  17. Can someone tell me who wrote the bill?

    Obama and the Congresskids didn’t even read it. I doubt Barney Frank’s, and the rest of Congress’, male prostitute aids, could have even understood it, no less written 2000+ pages much of which were technical changes to the already complex law. (I apologize for excluding the females who prostitute themselves for the Government–at least Barney’s boys were only committing victimless crimes).

    1. Can someone tell me who wrote the bill?

      Some 12-year old won the contest. They had to clean up the language, of course.

  18. Liberal elites like Obama and his ilk remind me of Dr. Smith in the old TV show Lost In Space. If only the Robinsons would acquiesce to the ‘superior intelligence’ and whims of Dr. Smith they’d be lost no more and would find their way home.

    Danger! Danger! Danger!

  19. Team Red should just show some footage of Obama saying that Obamacare is going to reduce the defecit. I think most people actually know that that is a ridiculous statement. I doesn’t even require any snarky racel-maddow-style text after the statement. Just show him looking us in the eye and telling us with a straight face that his huge ass new unconstitutional expansion of government is actually going to reduce the deficit.

    1. From the sad but predictable column, many Team Red members are (at least quietly) supporting Obamacare):


    2. It is possible to expand government and reduce the deficit. The Affordable Care Act raises spending, but also cuts other spending and raises taxes. The net effect is a reduction of the deficit, according to the nonpartisan CBO.

  20. I propose a new bill. The-

    Legislative Enforcement Act for the Verification of the Efficiency of Unfunded Subsidies in the Treatment of Health Equality and Funding Universal Care and Karate Assisted Loans for Our Needy Everyone

    Or the L.E.A.V.E.U.S.T.H.E.F.U.C.K.A.L.O.N.E bill

    You have to pass it in order to find out what’s in it.
    Vote Meth!

  21. I propose a new bill. The-

    Legislative Enforcement Act for the Verification of the Efficiency of Unfunded Subsidies in the Treatment of Health Equality and Funding Universal Care and Karate Assisted Loans for Our Needy Everyone

    Or the L.E.A.V.E.U.S.T.H.E.F.U.C.K.A.L.O.N.E bill

    You have to pass it in order to find out what’s in it.

  22. I propose the-

    Legislative Enforcement Act for the Verification of the Efficiency of Unfunded Subsidies in the Treatment of Health Equality and Funding Universal Care and Karate Assisted Loans for Our Needy Everyone bill


    You have to pass it in order to find out what’s in it.

    1. i was ok until i got to Karate Assisted…and then i spit coffee all over the keyboard.

  23. Peter, didn’t you watch that enthralling bloggingheads with Welch and Matthew? You’re just being silly.

  24. Number 7 is not empty, it is just a difference in parsing.

    The President says:
    “my proposal would bring down the cost of health care for millions.”

    This is factual. For millions who pay a little bit out of pocket and mostly get health care from Walgreens and the emergency room, the new free government funded healthcare will reduce the cost (to them) of healthcare. For the other 290 million people in the country the opposite is true.

  25. Why should Obama care? He’s not going to have to deal with the healthcare “system” he has created. He gets special treatment, for life.

    1. Which is why there should be a massive movement along the lines of:

      Okay, Barry, we’ll take what you’re offering – but only if every one of us gets exactly the same level of care YOU get… or YOU get the same level of shitty-assed care We wind up having dumped in our laps.

      Not holdin’ my breath.

  26. And don’t forget…starting this month, as part of Obamacare, every employer in the country must allow “reasonable” (albeit unpaid) time off from work for breastfeeding mothers to “express” their milk, and must provide a private, dignified location for such expressing, which cannot be a bathroom.

  27. Obamacare is 100% republican ,heritage foundation ideas including the mandates.No single payer,no public option.Private insurance still in control.

    1. Ah. Well, that explains the 0 Republicans who voted for it. No wonder it had such strong bipartisan support.

    2. Ah. Well, that explains the 0 Republicans who voted for it. No wonder it had such strong bipartisan support.

  28. 1 Trillion…compared with what you’ve wasted and are in ahem still wasting in nation building (ha,ha,ha) in Iraq and Afghanistan it seems like a bargain to me. At least the poor schmucks at the bottom of the dung heap will be able to sleep nights.

  29. Number 7 is wrong. The act will cause health insurance premium PRICES to fall, but SPENDING to rise. Prices fall because of regulations. Spending rises because of subsidies. So, it is absolutely accurate to say the bill “would bring down the cost of health care for millions.”

    You should really retract or “clarify” this item.

  30. Ezra Klien takes Suderman’s points apart:

    Try again Pete

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  32. Speaking from the point of view of someone without health insurance, between jobs/actively looking… don’t be a d!ck about it.

  33. p.s., F&CK; OFF, tgyh. quit poisoning the internet.

  34. And Ezra Klein shows what liars conservatives are AGAIN…but then, been there, done that many times…

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