Obamacare

How Obama's False Promise That You Can Keep Your Health Plan Helped Pass Obamacare

|

AHIP/Harry and Louise

Why does it matter that President Obama so clearly misled people by telling them that, under Obamacare, anyone who liked their current health plan could keep their current health plan? After all, some form of alternative coverage will still be available to people whose current individual market plans are canceled. And, as I've seen some liberal wonks point out, it's not as if health reforms that many of Obamacare's opponents support would allow every single person to keep the health plan they have today.

The latter point has some truth to it. Lots of health policy wonks who oppose Obamacare have supported, or at least said positive things, about health care policies that would break or weaken the link between employment and coverage. The U.S. health care system, with its layers of interlocking coverage mechanisms—Medicare, Medicaid, and tax-advantaged employer-sponsored insurance—was at least quasi-dysfunctional prior to Obamacare: It worked well enough for a significant number people who got coverage through their jobs, but created an array of long-term cost-control problems while creating access issues for a significant minority of the country. Disentangling that mess would almost certainly result in some people losing access to coverage they're happy with now.

But while wonks have talked about these problems, Republicans haven't exactly been outspoken salespeople for any large-scale health reform of their own, much less one predicated on the promise that the law wouldn't result in any unwanted coverage shifts.

Obamacare, on the other hand, probably wouldn't have become law without the president's false promise that people who like their plans would remain protected. That's a big reason why it matters so much. 

Remember that the Affordable Care Act was drawn up in the shadow of the most recent attempt by a Democratic president to pass a universal health coverage plan: Bill Clinton's failed push from the 1990s.

AHIP/Harry and Louise

The White House's legislative and communications strategy was built around the mistakes they believed the Clinton administration had made: Too much White House interference in the specific design of the legislation, too much complexity, too much opposition from the health care industry—and too big a threat to existing coverage arrangements that people were happy with.

So the White House stayed out of the congressional process, frustrating liberals by letting Sen. Max Baucus dither for weeks on the bill's design. And the administration cut deals with big health industry groups, including the insurance industry, which promised not only to stay out of the administration's way, but to provide positive air cover.

That marked a big change from the Clinton years, in which America's Health Insurance Plans, the biggest trade group for the health insurance industry, ran a $20 million ad campaign against the Clinton health overhaul. And the crux of that ad campaign was a series of TV ads featuring "Harry and Louise." The ads featured couple sitting at a dining room table worrying that their old health coverage will disappear, and they'll be left picking from a menu of government-approved options instead. Here's one of them. 

The cross-platform advertising campaign was widely credited, not entirely incorrectly, with killing the Clinton plan's chances at passage. There were other factors too, of course, but the ads played a meaningful role, and the industry-funded campaign left Democrats with a big psychological scar. Many were afraid that any new attempt to pass a health care overhaul were afraid that it would simply be Harry and Louised to death again.

The Obama administration was determined not to let that happen, and not to open itself up to any version of the charge that the health law would result in people losing current coverage.

That's why President Obama made the promise that if you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan. That's why he made it so often, before the law passed and in the years after, and why he made it without any wiggle room—"you can keep your health plan, period."

As it turns out, you can't. But the law probably couldn't have passed without it. At minimum, many liberals and Democrats didn't think it could pass unless the president made that promise. In that sense, whether it was true or not didn't matter as much as whether it was made, and made forcefully—which is exactly what President Obama did. 

Advertisement

NEXT: European Commission President: Xenophobia and Nationalism on the Rise Ahead of Elections

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. You know who else lied forcefully?

    1. Tommy Flanagan?

    2. me? like everyday to my wife.

        1. Given your latest monicker, I thought you’d approve.

    3. Joffrey Baratheon

    4. Baron von Munchausen?

      1. +1 Berthold, make yourself useful.

    5. You know who else lied forcefully?

      Someone whose name begins with an ‘H’ and ends in an ‘R’… it’s coming to me… hang on, almost there.

      Eric Holder?

    6. That puppet in “Team America – World Police” who told the chick puppet “I’ll never die”?

  2. This thing was passed through such dubious means that this falsehood was just a drop in the bucket.

    1. Maybe this will finally convince a majority of people we really have entered banana republic territory.

      1. Maybe. But keep in mind that a large number of Americans believed this lie. Seriously, how could anyone who understood what they were doing believe that?

        And, the administration already has their narrative going:

        http://patterico.com/2013/10/2…..lth-plans/

  3. To the true believes, sometimes it’s necessary to Lie for Justice. After the lie is successful, and exposed as a lie, the true believers says (a) who cares and (b) the lies were needed to overcome irrational objections from the unwashed masses.

    The next time they come up with some bright new idea, ask them (a) how do we know they’re telling the truth, and (b) as a gesture of good faith, if it turns out later they were lying or “mistaken” on some key point, will they commit to repealing their pet policy?

    1. A useful talking point in response to the next Bright Shiny Thing (a new war, a new govt program) is to say, “well, you assure us that the war won’t widen/it won’t increase the deficit/I’ll pull out in time, but then, you people assured us that Obamacare would let you keep your existing plan, that the Civil Rights bill didn’t encourage “reverse” discrimination, etc., etc. So we should trust you now because…?”

      1. Dream on. You can say that, and it does make sense, but your progressive friend probably won’t understand what you’re talking about because it interferes with his progressive worldview. In this case, he will call you a racist who hates poor people. If he is one of the diminishing minority of progressives who can comprehend another worldview, he may lie and say that progressives never lie, or, more likely, just call you a racist who hates poor people.

        1. Most of the Progs will never lose faith in government. At some point they will conduct a tactical retreat from this and health care in general for a few years and move onto other things. It might turn out like the late 70s or the teens when were so discredited and despised they had to pretend to be something else for a few years.

          But they will be back. The prob vampire never dies. If nothing else there is always going to be a new generation that grows up after they get kicked out who doesn’t know any better.

          But in the mean time, this thing is going to leave a mark.

      2. I’d expect this argument from a racist who hates poor people, like Eduard.

      3. When they passed the Amendment to allow the income tax, they assured everyone that it would only ever apply to the rich, not to the average working person.

        1. And they waited about 30 years before they started fucking people. Had they immediately come out with the rates we have today, people would have revolted.

          And of course, the majority of the people in this country don’t pay any income tax. So they kind of kept their promise.

  4. Is the suggestion here that a politician bent or twisted facts to aid in getting a law passed?

  5. Hey, we lie to ourselves every day about everything. Sometimes we want our politicians to lie about complicated issues, too.

    Self-delusion is the new black.

    1. Racist!

  6. Obama lied, healthcare died.

  7. So the White House stayed out of the congressional process, frustrating liberals by letting Sen. Max Baucus dither for weeks on the bill’s design. And the administration cut deals with big health industry groups, including the insurance industry, which promised not only to stay out of the administration’s way, but to provide positive air cover.

    This is when politics worked!

    No, seriously, this is when politics worked.

    1. Fuck, I meant to paste this:

      : Too much White House interference in the specific design of the legislation, too much complexity, too much opposition from the health care industry?and too big a threat to existing coverage arrangements that people were happy with.

      I blame the sequester.

  8. Of course it did. Hillarycare died after they ran the famous Bernie Phylis commercial or whatever it was and middle class America realized that Hillary care was going to fuck them. When Obamacare came around the media spent months assuring the middle class that this wasn’t going to cost them anything.

    Had the way this was going to work been known, Obamacare would have never gotten a majority of Dem votes much less passed. So what are all of the middle class people in solid blue states who are getting fucked by this going to do about it?

    Maybe nothing. But there is at least a possibility they might hold their Dem Senators and Congressmen who have voted for this thing multiple times responsible.

    1. So what are all of the middle class people in solid blue states who are getting fucked by this going to do about it?

      Vote Republican?

      1. Maybe. Or maybe some enterprising Democrats launch primary challenges on the “repeal Obamacare platform”. Or maybe they are so disheartened by being fucked like this they just don’t vote at all. Or maybe they vote Green.

        I am not sure to be honest. There are a lot of people in the blue states who are not brain Tony/Shreek like Progs. They are what I call soft, gentry liberals. They are liberals and vote Democrat because it is the culturally easy thing to do, it makes them feel good, and they really don’t think they will have to pay for any of these policies. Well, now they understand or are about to understand that yes, they personally are who is going to pay for this. Whether that breaks the spell and gets them to stand up and do something, I don’t know.

        1. If I had lots of money and time to burn, I’d love to bring back the bourbon Democrats.

          I’d also like to launch a Moon colony and get my daughter a pony.

          1. I’ll brush the pony and shovel the dung, if you let me stay in your moon colony.

            1. Done!

              Although I’d pay you more money for your financial wizardry.

              Moon ponies are supposed to be very low maintenance.

            2. On the moon, no one can hear you scream smell the dung.

            3. http://th04.deviantart.net/fs7…..58dgxo.jpg

              Haha. Now don’t make me search for bronie pics.

            4. I’ll brush the pony, shovel the dung, and govern your moon colony if you let me stay in your daughter…

          2. I’d brush the dung and shovel the pony.

        2. They are liberals and vote Democrat because it is the culturally easy thing to do, it makes them feel good, and they really don’t think they will have to pay for any of these policies.

          Some of these “soft liberals” don’t even mind paying their “fair share” of higher taxes or surrendering their liberty if the progressive expansion of government authority were to obtain some desired social outcome.

          What they all fail to understand is that the progressive programs always fail to accomplish the desired social outcome in the long term and generally make things worse for most people.

          1. The ACA is proving them with some useful education about that

        3. Or maybe they are so disheartened by being fucked like this they just don’t vote at all.

          Based on the years of sad politics watching I’ve done, this is your best scenario.

          When deeply committed blue voters are disenchanted by their candidate, they stay home. They don’t suddenly start voting republican.

    2. IF Republican candidates for the house and senate can show that they’ve learned their lesson about warmongering (the reason the Democrats were swept into power), then I suspect this is going to be a rout.

      Because people being fucked up the ass without the courtesy of a reach around generally don’t believe they guys telling them that that isn’t a dick up their ass.

      The Democrats have royally fucked up and can’t stop.

      1. I am thinking that the Republicans are going to win in some places they haven’t won in a long time.

        That certainly isn’t going to usher in Libertopia or anything. It will be a bunch of Chris Christie like big government Republicans who win in those places. But it might get this monstrosity repealed. And it will definitely be the kind of soul destroying experience for the Dems that might knock a little sense into them, for a few years at least.

        1. Actually, this is a great opportunity for the Campaign for Liberty types…

          A major problem both the Democrats and Republicans have is that they have no farm system to train and prepare good national politicians.

          I think the outrage over the ACA could encourage a bunch of more talented people to enter into politics, and that if the Republicans played their cards right, they could use the talent to start working on something like that.

          I doubt it will happen, but it is an opportunity.

      2. Don’t get your hopes up.

        Most folks are covered by employers and are relatively unaffected by the Healthcare.gov debacle. Their rates will go up a bit, but they’ve been doing that for years. Lots of new Medicaid beneficiaries will love the program. Self-employed geezers and those with pre-existing conditions will get lower premiums. The young Obamatons will stay on their parents’ policies.

        It will probably take a few years, well after November 2014, before the catastrophe in medical care becomes evident to the typical voter. Healthcare.gov will be remembered as a simple startup problem compared to what’s coming down the pike.

        1. Most folks are covered by employers and are relatively unaffected by the Healthcare.gov debacle.

          Not true. First, millions of those people have what are called “Cadillac Plans” are they and their employer are thus subject to a nasty tax. Pretty much all of those people, including every single union member in this country, are losing their health plans and having them replaced by something much worse. The website and invidual market debacle is keeping that story out of the papers.

          For everyone else, their policies are only grandfathered in until their insurer makes a significant change to the policy. And that means pretty much all of them will see lose their policy and have it replaced by a new Obamcare one within the next year.

          So everyone is getting fucked by this. No one is exempt.

        2. Exactly. And the clusterfuck that comes down the pike circa 2018 will be blamed on the market. And we will get our own NHS.

          1. Exactly. And the clusterfuck that comes down the pike circa 2018 will be blamed on the market. And we will get our own NHS.

            No, the clusterfuck is happening today. It is not going to wait until 2018.

            1. The profound assrape has only been experienced by relatively few so far and while the many have seen increases in premiums thus far, they have been experiencing health insurance inflation for some time now so the direct attribution to ACA is tenuous in their minds.

              But you’re right that as those granfathered policies end up in the can and as employers after a couple of years learn its better for the bottom line to dump employees into medicaid/exchanges and pay the penalties, then the real Dexter McClusterfuck hits and we see major pushback. But that won’t be for a couple of years.

              1. The profound assrape has only been experienced by relatively few so far and while the many have seen increases in premiums thus far, they have been experiencing health insurance inflation for some time now so the direct attribution to ACA is tenuous in their minds.

                I don’t think so. All that you describe is happening now. Everyone I know in the private sector has seen their plan replaced either because it wasn’t grandfathered or was subject to the tax.

          2. We are not getting an NHS. Period…

            And the reason is that Obama claimed this thing was going to work well, his proggie toadies claimed it was the most wonderful thing ever etc.

            Had they claimed that it was flawed, but the best they could do given the circumstances, they might be able to move on to NHS.

            But their hubris has ensured that as the crisis deepens, people won’t be listening to their shrieks for more control to fix it.

            1. “Make no mistake, the best deal for folks is a balanced, sensible, single payer system. If it were up to me, that is what you would be experiencing today – right now! – and all of the talking heads out there with no solutions of their own wouldn’t be all over the media complaining.
              So, let me be clear, if it were up to me, and I didn’t have to bend over backwards to compromise with the Republican Congress, we would be right where we need to be today. Remember, it was the Republican Heritage foundation who came up with the whole idea of a mandate, and to get something passed to help out the 50 million folks with no healthcare……and um, so like I said, we did the best we could considering the political climate at the time, and were able to pass the most comprehensive health care reform in our nation’s history. And, after a few glitches were corrected and we were able to implement the plan, well, then we had the talking heads put out all kinds of false information to the folks, which led to a situation where not enough folks were aware of the positives….. um..er.., and instead only knew about the glitches……..blah blah blah….. single payer”

              1. The hard left has been saying that shit for 70 years. And they have never gotten single payer. So now, after selling Obama to the country, lying and telling eveyrone they can keep their health insurance, and having the whole thing end in disaster, they are going to get it?

                Really? Do you really believe that shit? Did some prog lock you in a cage or something and give you Stockholm Syndrome?

        3. I disagree – rates are already skyrocketing, and not-stupid people, who get health ins through their employer, know it’s because of the law.

          I think the fireworks start early next year, and carry through to 2016 (depending on the response, if any, from the current Congress and Pres).

          We shall see – me, I’m popping popcorn RIGHT NOW.

        4. Lots of new Medicaid beneficiaries will love the program

          Also not true. The poor don’t pay for their healthcare now. Most don’t sign up for medicaide by choice. When you sign up for medicaide you have to go see a social worker and are subjected to all kinds of hassles. Few people want to sign up for it. The only people who do are because the hospitals practically force them to sign up. And that is not because the people want to. That is because the hospital wants to recover some of its costs from uncle sam.

          People really don’t seem to understand just how bad this thing is. It is not even a decent welfare program. The free shit brigade is not coming over the hill to save the Democrats over this.

          1. Durign the early phase of my divorce I was forced to sign up form Massachusetts’ medicaid.

            It was horrible; Every week I received one letter hectoring me about this or that. They hectored me about my employment changes, despite the fact I had *informed* them using the mechanisms I was required to use. They continue to hector me about my kids not getting their shots (the kids continued to see their non-medicaid accepting pediatrician with me paying out of pocket until the employer insurance kicked in and we never ever set foot in the medicaid pediatrician’s office).

            I visited my doctor once while I was on Masshealth. It was a very interesting experience. Basically, the office staff were hostile and sullen. I expect that was because the paperwork for a Masshealth ‘customer’ is even more awful than the paperwork for conventionally insured patients.

            If all of these new medicaid enrollees experience the type of care I received, most of them will not be very grateful for the program. They will view it as a humiliating pain in the ass.

        5. True, but even if YOU are covered by your employer, you probably know somebody who is in the individual market. And there are a lot more healthy people who are getting fucked than there are sick people who are getting sweetheart deals.

          Obama will keep his poor black and hispanic voting blocks, but the young, middle-class hipsters who are getting fucked up the ass right now will be staying home next election cycle.

          1. Even the poor are not going to like this Hazel. It is not free. The poor expected this to mean they get free health insurance. Instead they get a subsidy and will still have to pay something for health insurance or pay the penalty. They are not going to be happy. They poor don’t want health insurance unless it is free.

            The people who think these subsidies are going to be popular with the poor don’t know how the poor actually think.

            1. The poor on Medicaid don’t have to pay anything. It’s the working poor who are getting screwed, not the welfare masses.

        6. Most folks are covered by employers and are relatively unaffected by the Healthcare.gov debacle.

          To repeat. Not Fucking True.

          My employer (a Fortune 500 with good benefits) screwed the professional staff and dry-fucked the union people in the ass in direct response to Obamacare.

          There will be enormous impacts to everyone that had decent benefits from their job — from the low-middle to the high-middle.

          1. UPS threw several tens of thousands of spouses out of its health care program. The UAW is already clamoring for repeal. The blue-collar voting block is going to turn really hard on Obama really quick.

        7. It will probably take a few years, well after November 2014, before the catastrophe in medical care becomes evident to the typical voter.

          By that time it can be blamed on Bush.

  9. “Let me be clear, the reason why you could not keep your health care plan was because the EVIL RETHUGLICAN TEABAGGING OBSTRUCTIONISTS made it impossible. I am Barak Obama, and I approve this message.”

    1. “Let me be clear: if you like your insurance and want to keep it, great. But if I don’t like your insurance, you can go fuck yourself.”

      1. There is no sugarcoating it. Your old insurance plan will encounter enrollment problems.

    2. Don’t forget greedy corporations.

  10. What difference, at this point, yada yada.

  11. Holy crap. I just went over and skimmed the Fark Politics page. Oh man. They’re melting down. When you see big bold messages in all caps declaring that no one lied and it’s the evil insurance companies that fucked you over, you know it’s not because they feel comfortable. There are multiple threads on this issue and every one of them is like that.

    1. We will see. But they seem pretty panicked about this.

    2. The standard fare =

      “Soup4Bonnie [TotalFark]
      2013-10-30 12:31:19 PM
      I just can’t get worked up about this. If your plan changed, it’s because it sucked. Does your new plan cost more? In some cases, yes. How many? Probably less than there are media stories about people being forced to change their coverage.


      what_now [TotalFark]
      2013-10-30 12:32:04 PM
      People are unhappy because they actually have to carry health insurance that will cover healthcare. If they can’t afford it, there are subsidies to cover the gap- unless that is, they live in a state where the GOP refused to accept the subsidies.

      The RIchest Man in Babylon [TotalFark]
      2013-10-30 01:02:28 PM
      …None of what you just said changes the fact that the insurance companies are not forced to change the terms of the policies. If they have to cancel your policy because they decided to make changes to it then blame them (bold theirs)

      vpb [TotalFark]
      2013-10-30 01:05:03 PM
      I don’t see any polls or other data suggesting that people with crappy healthcare like it that way and want to keep it.

      1. By the way… I’m never going back there. Ever. Ever. Again. Don’t make me go back there. It was knee deep…layers deep… in headbanging-stupid-libtarded self-approval.

        The meme of “anything before ACA was *Crappy Healthcare*” is predominant.

        1. LOL, sounds like that website is filled with my entire neighborhood. That’s exactly what I hear all the time. Hopefully all of these nuts only live by me and the rest of the country is waking up.

        2. And sadly, I see it working.

  12. This particular issue also obscures a bigger falsehood, which is that the law was a reform of the insurance market meant to prevent insurance companies from cheating people out of coverage, and to stop people from cost-shifting in emergency rooms.

    That’s why so many people are only now being shocked by their premium increases. They were never told that they were now going to be subsidizing the sick through higher premiums. They never understood, nor did they have it properly explained to them, that community rating meant they would be paying higher premiums.

    And in fact, they were lied to about that because the D’s repeatedly claimed that premiums would NOT rise, but that all the new free preventive care would cause health care costs to fall. As if a few zero co-pay doctors visits will have such a dramatic impact on costs.

    This whole thing was sold on the idea that it wouldn’t affect anyone that had insurance now, but that it would improve your coverage and expand access. Nobody told people that they would have to pay more for their insurance.

    1. In 2009, if one dared to suggest that ObamaCare might cause premiums to rise of people to lose their insurance, that claim was met with frightening degrees of viciousness. Supporters of the bill just didn’t want to hear it.

  13. And, as I’ve seen some liberal wonks point out, it’s not as if health reforms that many of Obamacare’s opponents support would allow every single person to keep the health plan they have today.

    I don’t start from the awful premise that I have a right to intercede in the voluntary exchange and contract of parties to which I am not a member, and plurality of a voting segment of the population doesn’t enable anyone else of that right. If every person in the insurance industry were to wake up tomorrow morning with the desire to quit their jobs and pursue a career in finger painting, do these wonks think they have the right to force them to get back to work? You did point out something similar to my point, right? Or, do you need some Bastiat smacked across your ass too?

  14. This is all a big misunderstanding. What Obama actually said was: “If I like your health plan, you can keep it.”

    1. Which has become “If you are forced to buy a plan on the exchanges, you can keep it.”

  15. Libertarians just don’t understand the utility of the noble lie.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.