Washington (CNN) – President Obama continues to alter his signature promise in selling the Affordable Care Act back in 2009 and 2010.
“If you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” he said back then.
But that simple pledge has had to change as the Affordable Care Act has been implemented and a small percentage of Americans, albeit millions of people, have received cancellation notices from their insurance companies. And for the second time in two weeks, he’s tweaked the line.
When President Obama spoke Monday night to a group of supporters, he said: “While virtually every insurer is offering new, better plans and competing for these folks’ business, I realize that can be scary for people if you just get some notice like that.”
“If you had or have one of these plans before the Affordable Care Act came into law and you really like that plan, what we said was, you could keep it if hasn’t changed since the law’s passed,” added Obama.
“You’re grandfathered in,” although he again noted insurance companies had the power to change it themselves.
The President made his comments in an address to Organizing for Action, the pro-Obama group formed from the President’s 2012 re-election campaign.
Even though some people are getting kicked off existing plans, Obama has argued they’re probably going to get a better deal.
“Now, insurers are offering these new options, and they don’t just want to keep their current policyholders; they want to cover the uninsured, too,” he told supporters.
“And because of the competition between insurers, and the new health care tax credits, most people will be able to buy better plans for the same price or even cheaper than what they’ve gotten before. Now, some Americans with higher incomes will pay more on the front end for better insurance with better benefits and better protections that could eventually help them a lot, even if right now they’d rather be paying less.”
He made similar points at a health care event in Boston last Wednesday.
The new line is a far cry from the shorter, bumper sticker ready pledge he made as he sought to calm nerves that health insurance reform would not ruin plans that Americans liked and were comfortable with even though many of those plans didn’t cover things like prescription drugs, hospital stays or maternity care.
It wasn’t a one off back in 2009 and 2010 and even later during his 2012 re-election campaign. New York Magazine put together a montage of the very many iterations of it.
But it turns out the president didn’t have the power to make that pledge. As insurance companies upgrade plans to comply with new Obamacare coverage rules, they are dropping plans for potentially millions of Americans who buy their insurance on the individual health insurance market.
Insurance companies appear to be doing this for a variety of reasons; some are pulling all their plans from certain states where they have fewer subscribers in order to save money, others seem to be.
Back in 2009, as a White House correspondent for ABC, CNN’s Jake Tapper challenged the president on his promise. And even back then, there appeared to be an asterisk.
“Well, no, no, I mean – when I say if you have your plan and you like it and your doctor has a plan, or you have a doctor and you like your doctor that you don’t have to change plans, what I’m saying is the government is not going to make you change plans under health reform,” Obama replied.
Ah … the government is not going to make you change plans. Though the government might impose a situation that would cause a change of plans. So the promise was never quite as presented. And yet the president kept presenting it that way.
But that caveat didn’t make it into the subsequent campaign speeches that featured the line.
The cancellations will not affect most Americans, but they could hurt public support for the law. Just 17% of Americans said they’ll be better off under the law, but 41% said it won’t have much of an effect on them, according to a CNN/ORC International poll conducted in late September, just before the HealthCare.gov website went live. At that time four in ten said they would be worse off under the law.
Those numbers are similar to a Gallup poll conducted just over a week ago, in which 36% of Americans said they didn’t think that in the long run the Affordable Care Act would make much of a difference to their family’s health care situation. Just over a third said the health care law would make matters worse, and one in four said that Obamacare would make things better.
Rollout of the exchange websites that are supposed to allow Americans without insurance to shop from a selection of plans side-by-side has been troubled, to say the least. The website has been plagued by glitches, crashes, and is currently the subject of a Congressional investigation.
Frustration with the law and the changes it causes in the health insurance landscape could be temporary growing pains as Americans get used to the reforms. But the frustration is likely to outlast problems with the website as Americans focus more on the cost of plans offered under Obamacare and on the choices available.
CNN reported Monday on notes from an Obama administration “war room” meeting where officials expressed concern that once Americans had access to more information about the plans available, they might experience sticker shock.
An architect of the Affordable Care Act, MIT professor Jonathan Gruber, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer recently that most Americans will benefit from the law as it stabilizes the insurance market, fosters competition and guarantees coverage for almost all Americans.
Most Americans get insurance from either the government or their employer and won’t be affected much by the law, he said.
“About 5 to 6 percent get it on their and some of them will pay more, the young and health and not poor will pay more to get their health insurance. It’s a lot of people, but its small relative to the people who are going to gain and very small relative to the people who aren’t affected,” added Gruber.
But he also ceded that there will be winners and losers as the law is implemented. Some people will pay more and be forced to change their insurance. That’s a small percentage of the country, but a large number of people.
“Very very few people have to pay more and not get better insurance. That’s a very small fraction,” said Gruber. “Most of the people who will have to pay more will get better insurance than what they had before.”