How nuanced is the debate over health care reform? Even a statement of presidential contrition is more complicated than it appears.
The political world has thrown quite a fit in recent weeks over President Obama’s previous assurances that “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it.” Depending on one’s point of view, this was either the Most Important Lie Ever Told or an oversimplification of a complex policy, but either way, it’s become an important dispute.
The president sat down with Chuck Todd at the White House yesterday, and confronted the issue directly. For those who can’t watch videos online, here’s Obama’s comments from the transcript:
“Well, first of all, I meant what I said. And we worked hard to try to make sure that we implemented it properly. But obviously, we didn’t do enough – a good enough job – and I regret that. We’re talking about 5% of the population who are in what’s called the individual market. They’re out there buying health insurance on their own.“A lot of these plans are subpar plans. And we put in a clause in the law that said if you had one of those plans, even if it was subpar – when the law was passed, you could keep it. But there’s enough churn in the market that folks since then have bought subpar plans. And now that may be all they can afford. So even though it only affects a small amount of the population, you know, it means a lot to them, obviously, when they get, this letter cancelled.“And you know, I am deeply concerned about it. And I’ve assigned my team to see what we can do to close some of the holes and gaps in the law – because, you know, my intention is to lift up and make sure the insurance that people buy is effective. That it’s actually going to deliver what they think they’re purchasing. Because what we know is before the law was passed, a lot of these plans, people thought they had insurance coverage. And then they’d find out that they had huge out of pocket expenses. Or women were being charged more than men.“If you had preexisting conditions, you just couldn’t get it at all. And we are proud of the consumer protections we put into place. On the other hand, we also want to make sure that – nobody is put in a position where their plan’s been cancelled. They can’t afford a better plan, even though they’d like to have a better plan. And so we’re going to have to work hard to make sure that those folks are, you know, taken care of.”
In response to additional questions, the president added, “We weren’t as clear as we needed to be in terms of the changes that were taking place.”
There’s obviously a great deal of interest in this, in part because of the recent controversy, and in part because it’s unusual for any president to express this kind of public regret. (Try to think of instances, for example, of George W. Bush lying about the war in Iraq, which was infinitely more important than “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it.”)
But even the response to Obama’s interview isn’t helping assuage public confusion. I’ve seen a variety of reports this morning noting that the president apologized to those “losing their current health insurance plans as a result of the Affordable Care Act,” downplaying the fact that many of those same people are poised to get better insurance coverage at a comparable or better price.
For that matter, the president isn’t sorry about the cancelation of awful insurance plans themselves, since that’s what the law is intended to do, anyway.
Nevertheless, it seemed as if the political world expected a pound of flesh, and so Obama went on national television to say he’s sorry. Perhaps more importantly, he made clear that he and his team are aware of the small percentage of Americans who are being adversely affected, and the White House is working on new solutions.