November 5th, 2013
09:54 AM ET
9 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. Michael

    What a poorly written article.

    November 5, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  2. Gina

    INsurance rates change yealry and you can get dropped yearly. That is not obama's fault. Plus – look at yourself and around you.. Smokers, the obese, and those that just do not follow medical advice increase the cost – not obama. Take some responsibility for healthcare and stop blaming it on the government. Finally – it is not all about access. it is about accountability – when I see you in the ER you need to pay for service. I am done for paying for freeloaders!

    November 5, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  3. ROB

    Why do people in media, public and government insist on calling this program Obamacare? It personalizes and politicizes the debate. It would be better to discuss this on it's merits using ACA or something else. I listened to your President discuss this during one of his podium visits and even he used the term ObamaCare. He is the definition of a narcisist for speaking like that. I'm from Canada and as a dispassionate observer the whole debate by way it is framed in public and media is ridiculous.

    November 5, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  4. tom l

    @Sniffit
    You could learn a lot from Bernard King (basketball great who went to University of Tennessee and played for the New York Knicks). Originally from New York and said that while he went to college from 1974-1977 he encountered a lot of racism yet harbors no resentment towards them. As he so eloquently said:

    ""Everyone in Knoxville has always been very warm to me during my trips back to town," King said. "It's a different era. It's a different time. It's a different generation. Therefore, my interaction with everyone is quite different than it was back then."

    November 5, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  5. simon

    Lately any story about Obama or Obamacare doesn't include Disqus commenting. CNN loves Obama!

    November 5, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  6. subcmdr tal

    Sneaky. But then, we knew that already. The weasel is coming out now.

    Master of Puppets I'm pulling your strings
    Twisting your mind and smashing your dreams

    November 5, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  7. Adam

    AFFFORDABLE Health Care Act, WHATEVER!! I received a notice from my insurer specifically said that due to Obamacare, I would now see a surcharge of 7.5% on every bill because of the fees and taxes of Obamacare. My insurance has already tripled since Obamacare passed and that cost is after I increased my deductible to a ridiculous amount. If I didn't have a family to be responsible for, I would drop my insurance and pay the fine.

    November 5, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  8. Bill

    I'm disappointed how CNN always sugarcoats what Obama says and essentially covers for him. I've had CNN as my 'homepage' for years because I wanted an “unbiased” news organization to read – one who tells it like it is (...instead of far right FOX, or far left MSNBC). But I now can see how CNN presents the news their way – and their desires to “play” with words to fit their agendas. I hafta’ change my homepage to another news organization that just feeds us mortals the truth. Any suggestions?

    November 5, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  9. knklhead

    Here's a Newsflash: Private insurance companies have been kicking people off their plans forever - especially those that have higher costs than others; ie, have a pre-existing condition! Now, if you have a pre-existing condition (say Cancer) are you better off with Obamacare now that you can and will be covered (yes, there may be changes) - or back before Obamacare when you would have no chance in getting a healthcare plan because of the costs?

    All kinds of businesses and insurance companies are blaming a whole host of stuff on Obamacare .. laying off? It's because of Obamacare (not that your business is failing). Insurances dropping people? Not the insurance company's fault, it's Obamacare. Rainy and cold day? Obamacare.

    November 5, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  10. Yankee Doodle

    We know that you're lying that you never tell the truth.

    November 5, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  11. You Got It

    @Ross
    "This is simply a disingenuously manufactured issue."

    No, Ross, it isn't – Obama LIED. Period. He saw the IRS presentation, backed by data, that millions of Americans would lose their insurance; but he still went on live national TV, looked right in to the camera lens, and LIED.

    All in an effort to sell his version of the truth to all of America.
    You need to look at the facts and stop being naive & simple: "..if your Dr. retires to Napa they can't compel him to come back." Simpleton speak at its best.

    Obama LIED, period. This whole thing is a fiasco; I wish they would've succeeded in defunding it now.

    November 5, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  12. Hope and Change

    Can we please get some more speeches on "Hope and Change"?

    I had hoped to keep my insurance and now have to change and buy into AHC plans.

    I hoped to stay a Democratic, but plan to change my voters registration to Republican or Conservative.

    We hope those shovel ready jobs were available after spending all the taxpayers money on failed companies who went bankrupt. Now, I can't change my job even if I wanted to.

    We hope for change, well we got it. I hoped for some spare change in my pocket after paying for all the government free programs.

    We hope we can afford 3 mores years of this. Or, there will be Change.

    Where's Hillary? Oh no Mr. BILL it's Joe Bite me running for President in 2016. No way Jose, to be PC for the new U S of A.

    November 5, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  13. Jim Rome

    I always understood him to mean, "You can keep your coverage, no one will take that away from you." I never thought he meant you could keep your plan and doctor and hospital. This isn't fantasy land.

    November 5, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  14. Maria

    When the dust settles, and the Americans will stop dying from the lack of insurance – nobody will remember what CNN, FOX and Republicans were saying. Oh, you got your day, CNN, reporting on what is wrong with the Affordable Care Act 20/7. Yes, they screwed up with the website; and some plans got grandfathered. But a friend of mine who has diabetes and lost her job can now breath, and sleep at night – there is no excuse for not covering her because of a precondition anymore. My 19 year old athlete son will be able to stay on my plan till he is 26 – and I will not go bankrupt if God forbid he gets injured with no insurance. If I lose my job, I can go to exchange and get covered. Obama and Dems are trying and pulling through. What can Republicans offer us except sabotaging and rejoicing every time Obama makes a mistake? Doesn't CNN see anything positive in the facts that many people will be covered for the first time in their life? Is there any shame left in you, or it is all about ratings and sensations?

    November 5, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  15. tatsachen

    "So it's Obama's fault that these fascist, criminal-run insurance companies are canceling peoples' plans?"

    YES! Obama's criminally ran administration has stuck its nose into the private market and has changed the rules. Private companies operating in a free enterprise market system don't exist for the purpose of a feel-good, kumbaya liberal plantation. If you want to pay for other folks to have free healthcare, then go into business and create your own health insurance company and then give out FREE health care to the bums who you say need it.

    November 5, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  16. mookie1972

    Approval rating sounds like the Simon and Garfunkel hit, "Slip sliding away".

    November 5, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  17. Ol' Yeller

    Instead of tip-toeing around this, the mainstream media should have the balls to call it how it is.

    I think the mainstream media (which would be the biggest network- FOX, the most circulated paper- WSJ, and the most listened to radio program- rush limbagh) IS calling this the way you want to hear it.
    The MSM lie has really run it's course, ya'll. You can't get your news from FAUX, claim it is true because it is the most watched, and then complain that the MSM is lying to America. It is just disengenuous and frankly quite childish.

    November 5, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  18. aicohn

    This is really simple.

    Obama lied.

    November 5, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  19. bigdoglv

    Please spare me. An old dog can tell if he is tripped over or if he is being beaten.

    November 5, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  20. Tom

    Another Opinion ..reply
    My same insurance went up 40% from Aetna ..and you say this is Aetna's fault. You are a fool. They have to provide me maternity and other nonsense benefits I don't need. Their letter to me was very clear. ObamaCare is the reason.

    Get educated on the details before you mouth off.

    November 5, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  21. Kevin Darby

    Uber liberal CNN has been carrying water for the Obama Administration for years now, and it has only become worse in the last few months since the former CEO of MSNBC is now in charge at CNN.

    November 5, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  22. steven harnack

    It seems that CNN has decided that if they can't keep up with Fox then the will just join them. This is just one more manufactured crisis that affects very few people and has nothing to do with Obama and everything to do with the insurance corporations themselves. Wh is it that no one is raking them over the coals and asking them the hard questions?

    November 5, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  23. Sodus

    Tampa,
    Somebody didn't do their homework. The republicans did indeed offer a plan. Not that hard to research it. Maybe the Tampa sun got in your eyes.

    November 5, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  24. Bugs

    Obamacare in a nutshell: The ACA will make healthcare more available and affordable for "America's most vulnerable citizens" and the rest of us can go screw ourselves.

    November 5, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  25. Maria Delaluz

    This joker is far worse than Bush ever was, and Bush was pretty bad! I feel no sympathy for i di ot s that voted in this clown. Obamacare.......hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!! Suckers!!!! Sometimes you get what you wish for!

    November 5, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
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