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. darth's daughter

    Obamacare sucks!

    November 5, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  2. ryan

    Rudy, how does my 4 year old son having matertiny care or newborn care help? I understood exactly what i was buying before and i liked it. I make enough money where I Dont need all this other stuff, I can afford it. I can afford to not have it all together if i want, like i do now on myself.
    So no it does not help 100% of the people.

    November 5, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  3. Anonymous

    He's just a big liar. Always was, and always will be. The Obama Abomination, he should never have been put in office a second time.

    November 5, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  4. s~

    I hate people who'll defend a liar to the end no matter what.... on both parties.

    November 5, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  5. kylefromohio

    Did I hear Weapons of Mass Destruction,? Did I hear Insurance capital right to change anyone plan at anytime?

    November 5, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  6. bob_lawbla

    More proof that government has no business trying to manage healthcare or anything else for that matter.

    November 5, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  7. Tampa Tim

    People would have been happy with a junk policy, until thy found out it did not cover their surgery, or they were kicked off for getting sick.

    November 5, 2013 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  8. Heather

    I highly doubt the sheeple would have listened if Obummer would have told the truth in '09 they are blind and deaf. Only now that they may have to pay for it, are they crying about it. So sad, you have to pay for something, like the rest of us.

    November 5, 2013 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  9. Bert Bacharach

    But Mom! I didn't lie, I just "refined my pledge"! Just like Obama, so its all ok right?

    November 5, 2013 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  10. furianxo

    The liberal media is finally turning on obama? Amazing.... maybe there is hope for them yet

    November 5, 2013 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  11. Torey101

    This whole obamacare debacle sounds like one of those plans that begin with the phrase, "Here... hold my beer."

    November 5, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  12. d

    Come on guys, the p-Resident is flying by the seat of his pants here, as he always has, and relies on the great speaking ability he has to sell his ideals to congress, and get himself out of horrible policy decisions, kinda the same way as he did in the election. Great on ideas, terrible on follow through. And we sit back and take it. He has done far more to draw fire than Nixon did. And he is still sitting in the big chair and laughing at all of us. Gotta love it.

    November 5, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  13. DJFlorida

    I think everyone is missing the boat. Obama's campaign promises are being taken out of context. Back then, the question on the minds of a lot of folks was, "Will the proposed law take away our existing health insurance plan." And no, it wouldn't. That was what Obama was trying to assure the folks. Now on the other hand, existing health plans are contracts between the insured and the insurer. Either can terminate the coverage. it appears that a bunch of companies are now wanting to terminate some plans. I suppose nothing prevents them from doing that, and maybe they need to, but the President's original comment (in context) is still correct and people are not required to give up their existing plans just because of the Affordable Care Act. Oobama didn't lie back then. But by taking things out of context, it is possible to make it appear today that he did, and that generates headlines and readership. But it isn't good journalism.

    November 5, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  14. Liz

    The Tea Party warned us, and they were vilified by the press and Obama and his Democrats. Wake up America.

    November 5, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  15. Marco Gómez

    i paid 7500 a year for health insurance, I don't use drugs,don't smoke don't drink or visit the doctor but every two years for a physical and still have to wait 4 months for an appointment the health care is a BIG SUCKING business, the american dream for the insurance companies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    November 5, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  16. ranlo

    manipulating is 'deceiving' the public...uh...dah....lying!

    November 5, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  17. JohnRJohnson

    Obama had no idea so many people would decide that they actually liked their "junk policy". He thought they would be happy to get better plans that provide significantly better coverage. His mistake was in underestimating the degree of hatred toward him and some people with these junk plans would actually complain about losing them just to make him a liar. Personally, I don't think it was an intentional lie and I believe that Obama's only objective was to help all Americans get decent, affordable medical coverage. Attributing some kind of nefarious motive to his apparent stretching of the truth is ridiculous, but not beneath the GOP and Tea Partyers. In a year, they will be the only people who remembers the problems with the website. Everybody else is going to remember who engineered the shutdown and brought us to the brink of fiscal disaster by refusing to raise the debt ceiling.

    November 5, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  18. onlymho

    lies lies and more lies

    November 5, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  19. Mark

    Instead of just owning up and saying, I was wrong. I tried but it didnt happen. He goes and makes it worse by adding spin to it to try and save face. Too late Obama, you are just making it worse now.

    November 5, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  20. Robert

    Its about time CNN call this president on the carpet. The media have been so in love with this president for no apparent reason other than his apparent charisma and total control over the press. While a little late, thank you CNN for writing something critical of this administration.

    November 5, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  21. Teresa

    My 6 year old son is losing his individual plan and the new ACA approved plans are horrible compared to his old plan. MUCH higher deductibles and he cannot even go to his heart surgeon out of state. Republicans tried to warn people this was coming. Now our children are going to inherit our 17 trillion and growing disaster because of the selfish gimme people that have taken over our country. Our country is going to fall because of the fiscal policies of the past 2 administrations (YES Bush as well). We need true fiscal conservatives elected or this country is dead. Wake up people.

    November 5, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  22. Merle McClung

    The insurance companies are canceling plans, not the President. He can't control what businesses do. Who would have thought the insurance companies would be so blatant in their greed.

    November 5, 2013 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  23. boarddog

    If you look closely you can tell when he is lying...
    His lips move.

    November 5, 2013 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  24. chet

    Obama is the biggest liar in politics yet.. Chicago politics keep lying until people believe the lie!

    November 5, 2013 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  25. raul c.

    Let's move on since sooner or later many many Americans will have medical insurance but not all. Give the ACA a chance and time to settle in the country since no one said it was going to be a rose garden. Those who are panicking on ACA pls grow up and move on..

    November 5, 2013 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
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