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

    Steve – It's considered a success because he's found a way for the 5% who have been legally responsible and paying their fair share to ensure they had coverage when and if they needed it to fully fund the 15% who have been morally irresponsible by not having insurance. Those 15% again reach out their hand and say "gimme, I'm entitled".

    November 5, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  2. Tampa Tim

    If you have a junk policy, it is against the law. If your cancellation letter did not explain about the exchanges, and merely told you your policy is going up, you are being scammed.

    November 5, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  3. Joe

    Direct Quote: "If you like your plan, you can keep your plan,"

    Ten simple words. No amount of rewriting, rewording, and back tracking will change what it originally promised.

    My insurance on the exchange is double what I have now for less coverage. What I have now is no longer being offered. So much for "affordable".

    November 5, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  4. Gurgyl

    It is GOP and Rethuglicans that are habituated to lies, lies, lies, guns, wars, foreign contracts, halliburtons, Iran contras etc.

    November 5, 2013 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  5. Al0792

    Cnn you are so full of crap. Do some real reporting and admit the president lied and the ACA is a disaster. As much as I hate to admit it the republicans were right.

    November 5, 2013 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  6. LOL

    "When you lost your insurance plan, from one narrow point of view we'll be able to say that technically it was not us who took your insurance policy away, but rather it was insurers making necessary reactions to rules we imposed."

    November 5, 2013 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  7. Tampa Tim

    Robert, there is no republican plan. Last week they tried to come up with a plan and scrapped the idea.

    November 5, 2013 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  8. tom l

    "Refines" Wow. What a kind way to say that he fibbed.

    November 5, 2013 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  9. Rudy NYC

    Fair is Fair


    "I still don't understand that a law that was written to help 15% of the population, hurts 5% of the population and that is considered a success by this administration. And that 5% is only the number of private purchased insurance. ... ... This is just a sad day for America."

    Well stated. I believe your observations, especially with the "unintended consequences" of the employer mandate, will prove out to be absolutely correct.
    Don't you mean well spun? But, the argument is obviously flawed.

    The law does far more thatn help 15% of the population. It helps 100% of the population. You can get a health plan that is actually useful if you need major medical. Many people don't realize how little their insurance carries until they need it. Most don't realize their existing plans had payout ceilings. The truth is that the law helps 100% of the population, not just 15%.

    "Nice try, but we gotcha."

    November 5, 2013 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  10. CoryT

    Here we go again – everyone thinks that this is going to give them more coverage for less money, and can't understand the economics of it. It will take three years for this to ramp up and start smoothing out. Until then, some people will pay more, and some people will pay less.

    November 5, 2013 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  11. Rick

    How do you keep track of all the Obama lies????????????????

    November 5, 2013 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  12. DanO

    ACA is really about a society providing basic healthcare for anyone and using Income/Wealth Redistribution as the primarly means to accomplish it. At least that is what it looks like to me.

    November 5, 2013 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  13. jhonny Ausemkock

    "So you see, I didn't break my promise, the law forced insurance companies to break my promise. Yes, it's my law that created the issue, but since it did not specifically say 'you must cancel this plan' it doesn't count. So no, I didn't lie to you"

    Sounds an awful lot lot a conversation with a troublesome nine-year-old, doesn't it? Truth is, that's pretty much what this loser is. Have fun with the rest of your "hope and change", folks.

    November 5, 2013 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  14. sonkarlay

    So those of you posting things here go Google the facts and stop posting stupid comment oh i forgot they watch fox noise and Rush,facts check is easy and free

    November 5, 2013 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  15. Eagle0521

    If you like your subsidy (aka somebody else pays your premium) if you like it! Now Obama is not just a liar, but a psychotic pathological liar. These are the words of a sick person. He makes Goebbles look like a saint. But of course the libs will believe everything coming out of the Obama Truth Ministry.

    November 5, 2013 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  16. Fr S O

    It is downright unAmerican to help this president cover up his lies. Shame on you CNN.

    November 5, 2013 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  17. Cathy

    wait - a politician LIED?? how unusual....

    November 5, 2013 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  18. Tampa Tim

    Contrary to bagger lies, the ACA will work fine. I wish you wingnuts were as impatient with Bush when he embarked on a month long war that took 10 years.

    November 5, 2013 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  19. steve

    Why can't Obama just be a man and admit I was wrong, or I was mistaken? The first thing my father taught me about being a man was admit when I was wrong. I think this action speaks volumes for Obama's integrity as a man.

    November 5, 2013 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  20. Jay

    Could we get the "if you like your doctor you can keep him" caveats now, or do we have to wait until millions lose their choice of doctor.

    November 5, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  21. real world 123

    must be killing cnn to have to actually report this and act as real news organization. won't be long before we are back to gays, what ted cruz's dad said, what kim kardashian is up to etc....

    November 5, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  22. Jeanne

    So now lying, is "refining" what has been said. Sorry, CNN, Obama lied, and your organization is garbage for trying to put spin on it.

    November 5, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  23. gandfs

    About time CNN grew some balls. I question the intelligence of anyone inclined to let Obama and his administration off the hook for this.

    November 5, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  24. tom l

    "It helps 100% of the population. You can get a health plan that is actually useful if you need major medical."

    The arrogance of the left knows no bounds. How do you know what insurance plan is "useful" for an individual that you have never met? How do you know that the plan is "swiss cheese" when you have never reviewed the plan nor do you know the person that has purchased the plan? It is incredible to me that liberals think that they know everything.

    Oh, and he lied. Just admit it.

    November 5, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  25. anthonyhantonh

    Can't rewrite what obama said. Sorry. It was a lie... plain and simple.

    November 5, 2013 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
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