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President Obama said in an interview on Thursday that he’s sorry a number of Americans are being forced to change their health care plans despite previous assurances the Affordable Care Act would allow them to keep their existing plans.
"I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me," Obama told Chuck Todd during an interview with NBC News at the White House.
"We've got to work hard to make sure that they know we hear them and we are going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this."
Obama’s admission represents the latest evolution on the issue dating back to before the Affordable Care Act was even signed into law in 2010. Up through September of this year, Obama was adamant that the Affordable Care Act would not impact Americans who already had their own health insurance.
"If you already have health care, you don’t have to do anything,” Obama said in a speech on September 25th speech in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
But already 3.5 million Americans have had their healthcare plans cancelled, according to the Associated Press. Most of these are individuals who purchased plans directly from insurers, rather than through a workplace. The reason for the cancellations: their plans changed since the signing of the new healthcare law. While Obama was promising that you could keep your plan if you purchased it prior to the signing of the law on March 23, 2010, what he didn't say was that if a provider changed the plan its grandfather status would become void.
Since individual plans change frequently, the chances of individuals being able to keep their plans was always low. In fact, buried in Obamacare regulations dating back to 2010 is a Health and Human Services estimate that 40 to 67 percent of individual plan owners would lose that coverage because of normal turnover in the individual market.
About 80 percent of Americans with health insurance are covered through their employers or a government program such as Medicare or Medicaid. Conservative estimates now project the majority of those 5 percent of Americans who buy their own plans (about 14 million people) will likely have to make some kind of adjustment, sometimes at a higher cost.
The White House and administration surrogates have tried to mitigate criticism by contending some of those individuals will actually end up with cheaper and better plans. Nonetheless, Obama’s failure to include the "grandfather" clause in his if-you-like-it-you-can-keep-it speeches has turned into a growing controversy.
After the law went into effect in October, early reports began to emerge that Americans who buy their own insurance were starting to get letters from insurance companies informing them that their current plans were being cancelled and that they would need to replace their coverage in order to be in compliance with the Affordable Care Act.
White House officials continued to insist that Obama did not “lie” to the American public about the issue. However, throughout October, the administration’s stance continued to evolve.
“What the president said and what everybody said all along is that there are going to be changes brought about by the Affordable Care Act to create minimum standards of coverage," White House Spokesman Jay Carney said on October 28th. “So it's true that there are existing health care plans on the individual market that don't meet those minimum standards and therefore do not qualify for the Affordable Care Act."
After four years of sticking to his "if-you-like-your-coverage" promise, Obama recalibrated on Oct. 30. "Ever since the law was passed, if insurers decided to downgrade or cancel these substandard plans, what we said under the law is, you've got to replace them with quality, comprehensive coverage because that too was a central premise of the Affordable Care Act from the very beginning," he explained.
Just over a week later, that recalibration has become an apology.
Here is a timeline, compiled by The Washington Post, showing how Obama has addressed the “if you like your plan” promise over the past four years:
• June 15, 2009, in a speech to the American Medical Association:
“That means that no matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health-care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health-care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”
“If you like your doctor, you’re going to be able to keep your doctor. If you like your plan, keep your plan. I don’t believe we should give government or the insurance companies more control over health care in America. I think it’s time to give you, the American people, more control over your health.”
• October 4, 2012, during the first presidential debate with Mitt Romney:
“Number one, if you've got health insurance it doesn't mean a Government takeover. You keep your own insurance. You keep your own doctor. But it does say insurance companies can't jerk you around.
• September 25, 2013, during a speech in Prince George’s County, Maryland:
“Now, let’s start with the fact that even before the Affordable Care Act fully takes effect, about 85 percent of Americans already have health insurance -– either through their job, or through Medicare, or through the individual market. So if you’re one of these folks, it’s reasonable that you might worry whether health care reform is going to create changes that are a problem for you – especially when you’re bombarded with all sorts of fear-mongering. So the first thing you need to know is this: If you already have health care, you don’t have to do anything.”
• October 30, 2013, during a Boston speech on the Affordable Care Act:
“Now if you had one of these substandard plans before the Affordable Care Act became law and you really liked that plan, you were able to keep it. That's what I said when I was running for office. That was part of the promise we made. But ever since the law was passed, if insurers decided to downgrade or cancel these substandard plans, what we said under the law is, you've got to replace them with quality, comprehensive coverage because that too was a central premise of the Affordable Care Act from the very beginning.”