November 5th, 2013
09:54 AM ET
5 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. The REAL Truth...

    @Mike – It feels like I'm at car dealership and President and Jay Carney are like the slick car salesmen trying to bamboozle me into thinking being charged for rustproofing, transport charge, storage surcharge, additional overcharge, finder's fee, door mats, and keys make me have a better plan than I used to have (Seinfeld reference).
    ---------------------------------
    Much like I felt listening to Dubya's WMD lies... and that has cost us upwards of 6,000 US Military deaths, TRILLIONS is funds, and who knows how many 100,000"s civilian deaths in collateral damage. So Obama lied.. big wooo.. they ALL do.. And no, I don't think Bush deliberately lied about WMD any more than Obama did with ACA. What's appalling is the incredibly short memories Americans have and the HYPOCRITICAL standards held by the right.
    It's OK for "our GOP guy" to lie, cause deaths of US citizens (Iraq/Afghanistan wars vs drones against terrorists), spy on everyone (FISA, Patriot Act, NDAA and NSA were all Bush legislation) but it's not OK for the Dem POTUS???
    You can't have it both ways..

    November 5, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  2. jschiizzy

    Nicole, your income qualifies for subsidies. You shouldn't be paying 1200 a month. Have you checked healthcare.gov yet?

    November 5, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  3. Fact

    Its too late. Even if the Obamacare offerers find there is a much better option than what is offered, they can't roll-back at the expense of next election.

    November 5, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  4. canon808

    This is a very difficult situation for me, the ACA is a disaster and we all admit that. Those trying to say your plan is being cancel because it was junk and you are getting a better plan are idiots, we all should know ehn to admit that something isn't what we thought it was. That being said, we needed something to stop the discrimination from health insurance companies, the whole pre-condition and lifetime cap thing. So as much of a disaster as this is, its a good thing some people will finally get affordable insurance.Now it would have been problem solved if that was our problem, as far as I know, the debate was around controlling the cost of health care and as far as I know (not having read 2400 pages of the law), this law does nothing to control the cost of care.

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

    If the insuters cancel you shame on them not the president

    November 5, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  6. RockInD

    Every promise of something in the future has the potential of being broken. Please name 1 president who has not broken a promise.

    November 5, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  7. Gary

    No mention of worldwide protests by Anonymous further illustrates that the media is owned by our communist state. You will not find truth here. Only government propaganda with the illusion of journalism.

    November 5, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  8. Jay Lomiko

    So tell me all you obama supporters,... when they come for you,.. who is going to complain?

    November 5, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  9. James

    'I am altering the deal, pray I don't alter it any further' -Obama
    'This deal is getting worse all the time' – America

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

    This is just a huge mess.

    November 5, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  11. I See Your True Face

    why is it always a lie with you obama, you said If we like it we can keep it Period!, now you change it, you are a forked tongue two face lier. Soon Signs will be everywhere saying how much a lier you are. We The People See Your True Colors and they are the Colors of a Lier.

    November 5, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  12. justbeachy

    We saw this coming years ago...but there are those (including many media outlets) who bought into this. Are you kicking yourself now, those who voted for him? All of his lies, smoke and mirrors are starting to tumble...at America's expense.

    November 5, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  13. Diogenes

    The way it looks to me is that Obama has sold us all out to the corporate insurance companies. A big business and big government marriage.

    November 5, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  14. AmericaIsDead

    America is Dead. The ideal is dead. I have a President in office who continues to adhere to socialist doctrine while the liberals tell me what I can and cannot do. My insurance premiums are increasing by 100%, but I'm told that you don't have a choice. I'm told that by the President that 'what I said was accurate, just not precise' and I'm expected to believe this DoubleThink. I cannot get the media to be impartial, and my fellow Americans refuse to rise up and do anything about it. Welcome to socialism America. Obama, you have succeeded.

    November 5, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  15. lori

    "that one SIMPLE pledge" There is nothing simple about it. It is huge effecting millions of Americans. A PROMISE, an outright lie he told repeatedly. How stupid does he think we are? I am so sick of hearing the lies come from his mouth When he is on TV, I turn it off.

    November 5, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  16. BO

    Obama lied and healthcare in America died.

    November 5, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  17. irock

    Obama lied, And will lie again. And we will love him for it. Nobody is perfect. Even god cant make two trees the same,We will follow him to our death if need be. He is our commander in chief. America elected him.

    November 5, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  18. Baron

    "The truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end; there it is." Winston Churchill

    November 5, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  19. Jerry

    CGI FEDERAL, the company paid $290M by the Obama administration to create the HealthCare.gov website, has been granted at least five more government contracts totaling $7M since the site's problem-plagued launch Oct. 1.
    Here's another reason NOT to trust this administration....

    November 5, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  20. VJ

    fox = republican propaganda machine without facts. Msnbc = mostly democratic but with facts. I prefer Msnbc = Obama Care.

    November 5, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  21. jschiizzy

    Remember, healthcare costs is not about just monthly premiums. The totality of healthcare over life has to be factored in. If someone's plan goes up $40 a month but they save themselves from bankruptcy or very expensive medical payments in the future, that's a great deal.

    November 5, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  22. Fred

    Thomas, they just can't.

    November 5, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  23. Mike S

    It sounds to me that the architect of the Affordable Care Act, MIT professor Jonathan Gruber is just guessing as to the negative effects of the law. Obama obviously went to consult with people like Jonathan that agreed with his views and not people who were screaming of the problems with the law. They were called obstructionists and people NOT to be listened too. So much for the pragmatist title the liberal media were given to Obama.

    November 5, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  24. John Nivas

    The "non-story" here can be summed up as follows: Insurance companies have always been able to change insurance plans, and then send notices to their customers stating that their insurance is being cancelled and replaced by another plan. That's always been the case, and the ACA has not done anything to change that fact. However, now, if an insurance company decides to change one of it's older plans, the new plans all have to abide by the ACA law. It is the insurance company that is sending the letters stating that people's plans are "changing because of the ACA law". These letters are essentially a misrepresentation, in that the insurance company has made the decision to change their old plans, most probably to better compete in the new marketplace. Therefore, the insurance companys' letters stating that people are losing their insurance as a result of the ACA is not factual. They are losing their current plans because the insurance companys' have either decided that their old plans will no longer be as competitive, or they fear litigation down the road if people keep their old plans and attempt to make claims against them. Therefore, to put blame on the Obama administration (and personally attack Obama) for this natural, and anticipated market response, is totally absurd and irresponsible on the part of the media, and again, the Republic Party establishment. Shame, shame, shame! This is another great non-news event being perpetuated by the media outlets, in response to absurd attacks by the Republicans – what on earth has happend to the Grand Old Party?

    November 5, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  25. steve coster

    "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,"

    Do you people even pass High-School English? Or is just being gay and able to count to five enough of a standard to get hired by CNN?

    November 5, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
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