November 5th, 2013
09:54 AM ET
12 months ago

Obama further alters 'you can keep your plan' pledge

Updated 3:18 p.m. ET, 11/5/13

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.

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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.

CNN White House Senior Correspondent Jim Acosta asked White House Spokesman Jay Carney on Tuesday if the president could go back, would he "use the same words again" and promise Americans they could keep their plans?

"Well, the president, as awesomely powerful as the office is, can't go back in time," Carney said. "And what the president is focused on is what we are all focused on which is getting this right for the American people."

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"It is on us," Carney later added. "Let me be clear, I'm not – I am embracing the responsibility that the administration and that everyone involved in the market place has, to make sure that those individuals are getting the information that they need."

The President made his comments Monday 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.

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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.

Insurers send cancellation notices

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."

–CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.


Filed under: Health care • Obamacare • President Obama
soundoff (1,879 Responses)
  1. karenjay

    ""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.

    It's official. Obama sees the American people as stupid and cannot see the word games he is playing.

    November 5, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  2. Rudy NYC

    Fair wrote:

    Talk about spin. Well, you're the expert on spin, I'll give you that. How does the ACA help:

    Those who don't wish to carry insuraqnce, but will now be fined for it?
    Those who were perfectly happy with their policies and can no longer have them?
    Those younger folks whose rates will increase dramatically?
    Those who will lose the physician that they're accustomed to?
    Those who lost a high-value plan because the ACA says it's "too good"?
    Those whose contributions to an HSA were forced down to $2500

    I could go on and on, but I guess those don't count in your 100%, do they? All is good in the Borg collective.

    "Nice try, but you got NOTHING."
    ----------------------
    I got NOTHING because you served me NOTHING. All of the "horror stories" that you cited above have existed within our health care system for decades. Those are not new problems. People had the same complaints 10, 20, 30 years ago. The right wing just simply wants to fool everyone into thinking that ALL of the habitual changes in insurance coverage is due exclusively to the ACA. Some might be, but most are not. The ACA was passed arguably 4 years ago. When have you ever gone more than 4 years without your employer, or private insurer, changing your health care coverage.

    "A big swing and a miss."

    November 5, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  3. Name

    Obama lied so what Romney flipped flopped and lied the whole campaign long if he was president we would be lied to even more I own my own bussiness I pay 620 dollars for cobra insurance a month with Obama care I pay 350 dollars thanks Obama :)

    November 5, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  4. tiffinS

    I love when ACA is referred to as Obama's "signature" legislation. Classic!

    Ill conceived – Check
    Amatuerish – Check
    Based on a lie – Check
    Bungled implementation – Check

    Yep! Has his signature ALL over it!

    November 5, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  5. TheBigT

    Just like when he was elected. A freakin liar.

    November 5, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  6. Bruce Eder

    Lies, lies, and more lies (and this comes from someone who voted for him in two elections) - maybe when he leaves office here, he can find some African nation in need of a lying duplicitous, insufferably egocentric leader (maybe Mr. Mugabe will retire by then . . . . )

    November 5, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  7. srcactus

    This weasel is all politics and the nation is not better off for it. He deserves the same fate as Nixon and sooner is better than later.
    Clinton and the meaning of IS?
    Time for some elected representation that will do the business of the people for the people and of the people and not the political elite. We need change that we CAN Believe in and not because it is one political party or the other but because the candidate has the competence and integrity to do good things better.

    November 5, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  8. Archie Bunker III

    Bait and switch.I thought this was a crime.

    November 5, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  9. steve

    This could cause a revolution and I am not kidding

    November 5, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  10. The Real Tom Paine

    What no-one on here is willing to say is that none of us know what the long-term ramifications of the ACA will be when we are barely 1 month into the implementation of the law. You have the Right, rubbing their hands with glee over the cluster-F with the website, and the wave of cancellations that has hit people who's policies no longer meet the standard of the law, which they are using as proof positive that " Obama is a liar": WMDs, anyone?. On the other side, we have liberals who are being forced to defend a grossly incompetant rollout and are hoping and praying that the number of people signing up reaches critical mass so it won't collapse. If it fails, then what? Go back to what we had? Thats as unacceptable as Single-Payer. This is the course we have charted, and its a uniquely American solution, one that does not involve a government takeover, and hopefully ensures a steady profit for the health insurance industry. Just because things have not gone according to plan does not mean the concept is bad or that things cannot be fixed. After all the money the GOP flung up in the last campaign to divide this country, it would be nice to see them try to help get this going: after all, it was their idea originally. I guess they are more interested in opting out than making it work.

    November 5, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  11. Josh

    Profiteering off of someone's poor health, profiteering because they just want to live. This is what we are, despicable species

    November 5, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  12. Marc Atkins

    If you have a plan, then the insurance company changes that plan, is that being able to keep your plan? We can't control what the private insurance companies do, but if they offer a plan that doesn't cover this and doesn't cover that and the law goes into effect saying you must cover this and you must cover that...duh...your plan is now illegal. Sorry that the ex-Harvard law professor thought that most people would be smart enough to discern that he, the President, would only endorse something that falls within the confines of the law. If it's illegal, you can't do it. Sorry, should have spelled that out.

    November 5, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  13. Seyedibar

    Nice how people blame the president for the actions of greedy insurance companies.

    November 5, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  14. mindstorms1

    I think we should have a true free market health care system. Get rid of medicare, medicaid and any other government assisted system. Those who can afford health care will get it like any other product. Those who can't well that's just too bad. Of course we will have to change some of the laws presently in practice and make some new laws. For example hospitals cannot turn away patients because they lack insurance. That has to change. If hospitals want to serve those who cannot afford to pay they must not be allowed to pass those costs on to those who do have insurance. Let's have a true free market health system. I'm sure it will just work fine for those who can afford those services.

    November 5, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  15. draco

    what a fraud and a cad. truly and sadly the greatest deception America has ever encountered.

    November 5, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  16. tom l

    @Tampa
    "Burp – The problem with baggers, is that they think people with pre existing conditions are deadbeats."

    Patently false. Nobody thinks that. Perhaps you should stop thinking things that aren't true and you can get a better understanding.

    November 5, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  17. John Schwendler

    FDR lied to us about how Pearl Harbor started; LBJ lied to us about the Tonkin Gulf incident that was his excuse for plunging us into Vietnam; Congress lied to us every time they put totally unrelated amendment riders onto bills they passed at midnight; Bush lied to us about both 9-11 attack and reasons for going to war; the FBI lied to us about how TWA Flight 800 actually crashed; and this latest empty suit lied to us about healthcare, among other things. Is there anyone left in America with any common sense and reasonable intelligence that trusts their govt .leaders any more? There certainly isn't any reason to. We are so afraid of rising up against the powers that be. We meekly accept what is handed to us, told that it is for our own good, go home and turn on the vast wasteland of television, and put our minds and consciences to sleep. We keep re-electing the same fools to Congress term after term. Some reminder reading about the FF and their overall plan for a new type of govt included term limits, small govt, controlled banks, no foreign interference, and living within a national budget. They would spin in their graves if they could see how corrupt this once great country of ours has become. A disappearing middle class, growing welfare state, and the unemployment totals have to be about twice what our fearless leaders are trying to tell us it is. Career-type positions are gone, blue-collar assembly line jobs are gone, and there is no reasonable belief that anything remotely like them will return anytime soon. Our national debt is insurmountable; we have no excuse for thousands of our fellow citizens sleeping under bridges; our prison system overflows; our border leaks; and our govt leaders diddle. I weep for this country that I once served.

    November 5, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  18. Justin

    "This deal is getting worse all the time." – Lando

    November 5, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  19. Johnno

    Does the President really understand the meaning of the word 'Period'? Or does he think it is the end of one sentence and the next sentence is currently being manufactured by a speech writer?

    November 5, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  20. 1Bigboy

    Republicans have been telling us Obama is a liar for 5 years. This is not news.

    November 5, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  21. Rob

    If this guy said he was lying...I still wouldn't believe him. Toss the bum OUT!

    November 5, 2013 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  22. Sonny

    All liberals can do is make smart remarks like "what is the republican's plan" etc etc. Here's the problem with those statements...it deflects attention away from the fact that America was lied to repeatedly. That can NOT simply be swept under the rug. To cancel millions and millions of insurance plans (which people liked...which were affordable...which were working for them) is NOT ok. We were repeatedly told this wouldn't happen. We were also told that the average American would save $ 2500 on Premiums...this has not happened either...they have skyrocketed everywhere with the exception of a few states. The whole point of the ACA was to help those who didn't have insurance, but what has happened instead is it has taken insurance away and forced them to pay 2 or 3 times as much for a plan that has fewer options and coverage. This is NOT ok. For liberals to respond to this all with slams on Republicans is unacceptable and is off topic....this is about Obama and what the Democrats promised.

    November 5, 2013 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  23. Mike Mentges

    This President deserves to be hung for his tyrannical ways. Right along side mainstream media!

    November 5, 2013 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  24. holspark

    He said it in 2011, 12 and 13 also. It is called "lying", and i certainly would have expected some honesty from the man. Very disappointing that he cares so little about the truth.

    November 5, 2013 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  25. DL

    I kinda liked that everyone would have insurance – right up until I found out today that I, a 64 year old that had had a TOTAL HYSTERECTOMY – WILL NEED TO PURCHASE MATERNITY INSURANCE. And so will every other female – from age 0 to death?!

    Did the people who make the decisions actually THINK about them?

    November 5, 2013 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
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