No apologies from House Democrats on Obamacare confusion

Chris Moody
Political Reporter
U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD) (L) talk to the media on Obamacare following a Caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, November 14, 2013. Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are united on the need for improvements to President Barack Obama's health care law and will propose their own legislative changes, Pelosi said on Thursday. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS HEALTH)

House Democratic leaders are refusing to apologize for the confusion caused when millions of Americans received health insurance cancellation notices as a result of the Affordable Care Act, even after President Barack Obama's contrite press conference on the matter and a clear statement of apology last week. 

Shortly after Obama announced Thursday that he would unilaterally extend by one year the period in which insurers could offer insurance plans that do not meet new quality standards, Democrats moved to defend the “keep your plan” line.

Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill,the top four House Democrats — Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Assistant Leader James Clyburn, Whip Steny Hoyer and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra — were asked if they would apologize to any constituents who felt misled by Democrats. Each declined.

“I don’t think there’s anything for us to apologize for,” Clyburn said after explaining that once enough Americans switch to exchange-based insurance plans, they will appreciate “what they did not have” through their prior insurance plans.

Their defensive tone was a stark contrast to Obama’s earlier Thursday, when he accepted responsibility for the myriad problems associated with the rollout of his signature domestic policy measure. And last week during an NBC News interview, he said of those getting cancellation notices that he was “sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me.”

The president has faced a national uproar after insurance companies sent out millions of cancellation notices that will go into effect at the beginning of the next year. Under the Affordable Care Act, companies are required by law to provide a certain standard of coverage. Plans that do not meet that standard would not be continued. But Obama on Thursday announced that he would delay the standard-of-coverage mandate for a year to give people more time to seek new plans.

Pelosi, Hoyer and Becerra echoed Clybrun’s response at the press conference and said that Obama had done the right thing by allowing more time.

“There is nothing in the Affordable Care Act that said your insurance company should cancel you,” Pelosi said. That’s not what the Affordable Care Act is about. It simply didn’t have it. Did I ever tell my constituents that if they like their plan, they could keep it? I would have if I ever met anybody who liked his or her plan. But that was not my experience. … As far as the Affordable Care Act is concerned, what the president said was completely accurate.”

Hoyer added that the law didn’t force insurance companies to extend plans, but that people interpreted the Democrats’ “keep your plan” talking point incorrectly.

“If you had a policy on the day that this bill was adopted, you got to keep it. You didn’t get to keep it if the insurance companies didn’t want to offer it to you. We didn’t say the insurance companies had to give you the policies. We said if you like it, you can keep it, but nobody had in mind that the insurance companies were going to be forced to offer people insurance,” he said. “[Obama’s] statement, if it was limited to the bill itself, is absolutely accurate. The problem is, people interpreted that, and frankly, we said it expansively.”

Although the president contends that he can mandate the change through executive action, House Republicans and Democrats plan to vote Friday on their own legislative proposals that would allow Americans to keep their plans. Both votes will be symbolic: The Republican plan is expected to pass the House with at least some bipartisan support, but will die in the Senate. The Democrats intend to file for a motion to recommit on their bill—a strategy traditionally used by minority parties to give their members an opportunity to cast a vote on their bill if the majority won’t give it floor time.

With election season less than a year away, vulnerable Democrats hope that the new “fix” can alleviate at least some of the anger over the sticker shock of the new law.