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. Jay

    You get better coverage even though it costs more. Well, if you are on a family budget, and have healthcare which just got cancelled, and don't qualify for a subsidy of any kind, then you are screwed. You no longer have healthcare, and can't afford the policy close to what you had, it blows your budget. Unlike the government, you just can't print your own money when you don't stick to your budget.

    November 5, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  2. Dana

    You cant "change" a promise. Either you kept it, or you broke it.

    November 5, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  3. Martha

    Watch your back Obama supporters. You may approve of Obama lying to the American People in order to get ObamaCare passed by Congress... but remember he deliberately lied to deceive the American People... his next lie may deceive you... Obama is not to be trusted.

    November 5, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  4. Jon

    Shouldn't make promises you can't keep, Obama has no control over insurance companies.

    November 5, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  5. Crampon

    Obama is sending out new labels for the previously sold snake oil.

    November 5, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  6. bryan

    seriously this guy has lied about every one of his goals because he knows the American people would not support them. if he can just rig the system and fool enough of us long enough to cement his new Utopian Socialist America he will have it made. and only then will his father like him

    November 5, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  7. Harry101

    What is promise not keep is what now?

    November 5, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  8. nuclear mike

    ALL lies from the very beginning...what did you expect people???

    Vote Democratic again and you will see what socialism really is like living with day to day...

    November 5, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  9. tom l

    @Maria
    "My 19 year old athlete son will be able to stay on my plan till he is 26"

    I would hope you had more aspirations for your son than to still pay for him when he's 25 years old. He's a grown man and should pay for himself.

    November 5, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  10. Nicole

    I'm not sure how people are defending this by saying "It's not Obama's fault, it's the insurer's fault!" or "If your doctor retired, you couldn't keep him either." The whole point here is that what is happening is a direct result of something the government mandated. It was passed into law with a general understanding that was false. And don't tell me that it was the people's responsibility to go read that behemoth law when congress couldn't do it and the "average citizen" is never expected to do more than depend on govt hand outs.
    I'm not sure who the people are that are saving money. I make 35k a year for a non-profit agency (I'm a social worker – no Wall Street tycoon here!). To insure myself and my two sons on my same plan will cost me 1200 a month with a 3k deductible. I'm all for fairness and people having access t healthcare. But please don't insult the intelligence of Americans by saying that this is anything other than a complete disaster.
    I'm disappointed that this was the best that my government had to offer.

    November 5, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  11. Thomas

    This president has lied to many times how can americans even trust one word coming out of this mans mouth.

    November 5, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  12. Linda

    Obama lied, plain and simple. He told us that we could keep our existing policies. There were no caveats. (like being ACA compliant) The health insurance companies are canceling the plans that are not ACA compliant. Obama is forcing us to buy coverage we don't need. My plan is being canceled because of Obama. I was paying $262/monthly for and 80/20 plan with $2,500 deductible. Obama's new exchange rate for me is $792/monthly for a 60/40 with $7 K deductible. At my age, I don't need the maternity, pediatric, etc. coverage that Obama wants to force me to buy. Obama and is ilk get free taxpayer paid "Cadillac" insurance. Disgusting. It's time to censure or impeach and vote the rest of the Obama shills out of office.

    November 5, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  13. dsteinle

    So NOW is he telling the truth?

    November 5, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  14. Name

    Could you look into alto of what he said then and now. You all will be surprised. The other big one is we cant keep raising the debt celieng but now its ok..

    November 5, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  15. jschiizzy

    The grandfather clause does allow people to stay on their plans, period. Its up to the insurance company to still offer it and for customers to have stayed on it since 2010. The law didn't force anyone to change their plan. It didn't force insurance companies to change the terms of the plan. They were allowed to still offer even crappy plans. It was the insurers who changed the terms, and they were not forced to. I guess instead of having a one-liner, Obama was supposed to read the whole grandfather clause during every speech.

    November 5, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  16. jrship

    Obama didn't cancel the plans. The insurers did. But it's Obama's fault.

    This message was brought to you by CNN's corporate sponsors.

    Nevermind the real story. that people who could only afford junk insurance that doesn't actually cover anything are now getting affordable comprehensive coverage, or are we all now forgetting Diane Barrette now that the truth doesn't fit the rightwing's political narrative?

    November 5, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  17. smc

    When Republicans blocked "Hillarycare" back in the 1990's they claimed it wouldn't let you keep your doctor/plan.

    Since Republicans blocked Hillarycare and before Obama took office: 20 million Americans lost their insurance, 45 million were forced off of PPOs onto HMOs, about 30% of small businesses dropped their coverage, and generally value of coverage declined at a rate of over 10% a year.

    That's the result of Republicans doing nothing for 15 years and their disastrous job at "you can keep your plan".

    November 5, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  18. John

    It is a shame that this is being spun every which way possible but the fact remains, you will have an actual insurance policy that will perform as you expect when you are in need of it to work that you did not have in many cases before. It may actually cost a small percentage of Americans more to have real coverage instead of the policy they were sold, and are "happy" with, that will not actually pay off if and when needed. I do not feel sorry at all for insurance companies who can now only take 20% of the premiums to cover their overhead and massive unearned salaries. It should be 5% maximum

    November 5, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  19. Rashby12a

    If you change a promise then it is a lie; pretty simple concept really

    November 5, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  20. txlisa

    How is double the premium and and a $12,000 deductible before coverage kicks in going to help? Why does a man need maternity coverage?

    November 5, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  21. Kenneth

    If congress had done THEIR job instead of (like mindless sheep) following their (goat) leader (let's pass it so we can see what's in it!), the current congress wouldn't be having to do it now! I'm a retired (Mil/Indust) conservative, also thankful for my SocSec as well. Socialism? I paid for it through the years. I DON'T like Obamacare as it now stands. There is much more than just Medical subjects in this bill that good debate in the old congress would have addressed and thrown out, even by the majority at the time.
    I'm obviously not an Obama fan, but at least he got something addressed that has been needful for years. Decades have passed affording BOTH major parties opportunity to successfully develop solutions to the subject matter. Just like our public transportation systems, private industry makes enormous profits utilizing them. Regulations are involved throughout, yet understanding that greed cannot be regulated. Those public sector industries where the general public is dependent (ie petroleum, medical, communications, etc) could use some regulating of run away costs. This from an old conservative.

    November 5, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  22. sir amick tyle

    Why do these people insist on telling people what's "better" for them? Let me decide what's "best" for me not some politician who thinks he knows what's best for me. The arrogance is unbelievable. And what about all the liberals who want the government to stay out of their business when it comes to abortion or gay marriage, but I guess now they want the government to stick their noses into what kind of insurance you buy? Total hypocrites.

    November 5, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  23. Dave

    Worst president ever. Period!

    November 5, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  24. Tom

    "If you like your plan, you can keep your plan,"

    "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.

    Okay. What does this say? "If you like your plan, you can keep your plan,". Why is this so hard for people to understand? It reads that If I like my EXISTING health care plan, I can keep it. It doesn't say that the GOVERNMENT can tell me what my plan has to be. With 17T in debt, I find it hard to believe that the government is in any place to tell their citizens what their needs are.

    Funny how we have to balance our check books each month, but, if the government wants to keep spending money (we don't have), they can do at WILL..............

    Amazing how the press and the other apologists have to twist these statements to what they think it means just to protect this truth twister we call a president. Just like "read my lips". It meant what he said. Don't spin it any other way. So, what he said is absolutely false. The government now can tell you what kind of health insurance you MUST carry!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    November 5, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  25. aBE fROMAN

    If he changes his promise and doesn't tell anyone, isn't that a lie? Period.

    November 5, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
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