Actually, You Can't "Keep It"

Friday, November 01, 2013


This week's Obamacare troubles came in the form of media challenging the oft repeated claim by the administration that if you like your health insurance policy, you can keep it. Bob talks to Washington Post writer, and author of The Fact Checker blog Glenn Kessler about why the "you can keep it" claim was so misleading, and why the media are just now getting around to correcting it.


Glenn Kessler

Hosted by:

Bob Garfield

Comments [19]

Where is the media crit about all the right-wing media non-journalists misleading viewers about Obamacare?

OTM is NPR's most high-profile media crit show, isn't it?

Are you going to continue tarring all "the media" with "correcting" things about Obamacare when a good chunk of the advocacy media is out there lying about it?

I look forward to the media correcting themselves after parading one ignorant Joe-The-Plumber wannabe after another who took two seconds looking at the Obamacare website and went running to, say, Fox news about how they don't have any insurance options.

Nov. 05 2013 01:24 PM

Shame on OTM and Kesseler; you are the ones who deserve four Pinnocchios. If it was such a big secret, how is it that I, Joe Nobody, knew all along that insurance plans had to meet a minimum standard. The media, including you, failed for months and months to challenge or correct the misleading assertions by opponents of health care that everyone would have to sign up for some kind of national insurance. Perhaps the President erred in responding with overly simplified sound bites countering these deliberately misleading claims, but it is the media that drives sound bites; Pres. Obama was essentially forced into a simple response. To make your failure in truthful reporting worse, you characterize the people who need to get better insurance as "victims" of the law. The real story is that these people were being victimized by so-called insurance providers who charged them for plans that provided no real coverage. They are being helped by the ACA, not victimized by it.

Nov. 04 2013 04:39 PM

1. it's not a lie if not meant to deceive.
2. PBO very likely believed what he said, b/c grandfather clause was meant to accomplish it.
3. kessler's summary of grandfather clause is significantly inaccurate.
4. insurers killed policies they could have grandfathered.

Nov. 04 2013 01:55 PM
AM from Upper West Side

Here's Obama explaining recently what is in the ACA law (and what he had been previously saying):

"if you had one of these substandard plans before the Affordable Care Act became law and you really liked that plan, you were able to keep it. That's what I said when I was running for office. That was part of the promise we made."

But ACA goes on to mandate that:

"... since the law was passed, if insurers decided to downgrade or cancel the substandard plans, we said under the law is, you've got to replace them with quality, comprehensive coverage, because that, too, was a central premise of the Affordable Care Act from the very beginning,"

Because without this caveat insurers could have avoided complying with the law by 'keeping' (and downgrading) their existing substandard 'plans', no doubt while increasing the premiums.

Nov. 04 2013 01:03 PM
Joey from Michigan

I expect more from OTM than this lame and misleading report.

Here's a link to a fact sheet on "Grandfathered" Health Plans.

So, any insurance company claiming they were forced to cancel a plan because of the ACA are, simply, lying.

Second, OTM and most news media (exception: Diane Rehm show) have not reported that most individual plans are cancelled and replaced with a new policy every year. Therefore cancellations and changes are a normal part of the process.

Nov. 04 2013 10:58 AM
AM from Upper West Side

Pity that Bob Garfield allowed Kessler to get away with saying that people who had had their health insurance plans cancelled were 'victims'! Perhaps some will 'suffer' by having to pay more but most will not only pay less but get more in the bargain. Hardly victims!

Here is an excerpt from a 2010 DHHS press release which explains the 'grandfather rule' and proves that the Obama administration never lied about canceling existing plans.

News Release
June 14, 2010

Contact: HHS Press Office
(202) 690-6343

U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury Issue Regulation on “Grandfathered” Health Plans under the Affordable Care Act
Allowing Americans to Keep Current Health Plans or Choose a New Plan While Extending Important New Benefits to All Consumers

The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury today issued a new regulation that makes good on President Obama’s promise that Americans who like their health plan can keep it.

The new regulation protects the ability of individuals and businesses to keep their current plan while providing important consumer protections that give Americans – rather than insurance companies – control over their own health care. The new regulation also provides stability and flexibility to insurers and businesses that offer health insurance coverage as the nation transitions to a more competitive marketplace in 2014 when businesses and consumers will have more affordable choices through exchanges.

“The Affordable Care Act gives American families more control over their health care by providing greater benefits, cost savings and protections,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. “Today, with the announcement of the new ‘grandfather’ rule, we’re providing the market stability and flexibility to ensure that families and businesses can make the choices that work best for them.”

While the Affordable Care Act requires all health plans to provide important new benefits to consumers, under the law, plans that existed on March 23, 2010 are exempt from some new requirements. The “grandfather rule” issued today makes it clear that these plans can continue to innovate and contain costs by allowing insurers and employers to make routine changes without losing grandfather status. Plans will lose their “grandfather” status if they choose to significantly cut benefits or increase out-of-pocket spending for consumers – and consumers in plans that make such changes will gain new consumer protections.

Nov. 04 2013 01:00 AM
Rob from StL from Missouri

I am wondering if OTM and Glenn Kessler need to be given some Pinocchios. As several of you people in the comments have pointed out, substandard policies in existence before the ACA was passed were grandfathered in. If someone had one of those policies and their insurance company continued to offer it (unchanged), the ACA would allow the person to keep it. It was the choice of some insurance companies to change these to "new" substandard plans that they certainly should have known would not be legal.

Although I am not surprised that Fox News would "get the vapors" because Obama did not point out in his speeches that your insurance company could, as they have been doing for years, invalidate or otherwise cancel your policy. I expected better from OTM and Mr. Kessler. I expected them to clarify the subtleties rather than simply echoing the simplistic MSM narrative.

Nov. 03 2013 06:43 PM

While a long-time fan of OTM, my reaction to this program falls in the category of: "The more I know about a subject. the more I find to question in journalistic reports on that subject."

Bob Garfield let Glen Kessler get away with "Healthcare is complicated" in answering a question about health insurance. Bob surely understands that health insurance is not healthcare. Further, if Bob had questioned Kessler on his statement, he might have been able to explore with Kessler why Obamacare is so complicated. And Bob surely understands why: It tries to reach incompatible goals (1) making healthcare more-universal and affordable, and (2)leaving in place the private insurance industry. "You will be able to keep your healthcare insurance policy if you like it" was necessary to mollify, first, the politically powerful health insurance industry and, second, a public that fears change. even beneficial change.
That pretty well explains the difficulty in achieving affordable universal health care.

Nov. 03 2013 05:43 PM

The fact that substandard, bait-and-switch plans (which basically don't really insure you for anything substantial) would no longer be sold was always out there from the get-go. How come I knew about it? I believe I heard it on NPR, read it in the New York Times and/or actually heard it from the president himself or one of his staff. Yet, a reporter from the Washington Post and the staff at OTM seemed to have been totally ignorant of this. Yes, low information citizens who only get their news from soundbite media may have missed it. But, I expect more from the Washington Post and WNYC!

Nov. 03 2013 12:15 PM
ArthurPrice from New York

The fact that substandard, bait-and-switch plans (which basically don't really insure you for anything substantial) would no longer be sold was always out there from the get-go. How come I knew about it? I believe I heard it on NPR, read it in the New York Times and/or actually heard it from the president himself or one of his staff. Yet, a reporter from the Washington Post and the staff at OTM seemed to have been totally ignorant of this. Yes, low information citizens who only get their news from soundbite media may have missed it. But, I expect more from the Washington Post and WNYC!

Nov. 03 2013 12:13 PM
Neil in Brooklyn from New York

The fact that substandard, bait-and-switch plans (which basically don't really insure you for anything substantial) would no longer be sold was always out there from the get-go. How come I knew about it? I believe I heard it on NPR, read it in the New York Times and/or actually heard it from the president himself or one of his staff. Yet, a reporter from the Washington Post and the staff at OTM seemed to have been totally ignorant of this. Yes, low information citizens who only get their news from soundbite media may have missed it. But, I expect more from the Washington Post and WNYC!

Nov. 03 2013 12:01 PM
C from NJ

Democracy Now or Aljazeera America stations need "On the Media" shows to critique NPR's OTM coverage.

Nov. 03 2013 11:14 AM
Anne Dunkelberg from Austin, TX

Here were the 2 main shortcomings in OTM's and the factchecker's analysis (or at least in the part of their analysis that was included in the broadcast).

1) The ACA did allow plans that failed to meet minimum standards, AND WERE IN EXISTENCE ON 3/23/2010 WHEN THE LAW PASSED to stay on the market under grandfathered status. In other words, anyone getting their plan canceled now and being told it's because of the ACA either (a) was sold their sub-standard plan AFTER the ACA passed, and by an insurer who KNEW at that time that the plan was substandard, NOT eligible for grandfathering as a new plan, and would have to be either improved or cancelled in 2014. (b) OR,if they had this plan before 3/23/2013, their insurer has elected to cancel it, and is NOT actually being required to. I would hope insurers would not be so brazen as to lie and in (b), so I assume they are mostly just not taking responsibility for having failed to inform their customers that they were selling what the seller knew at the time would become substandard in 2014.

2) The factchecker guest implied that high-deductible plans are no longer allowed, which is false. High deductible plans, including those attached to medical savings accounts, ARE allowed, with an individual deductible up to about $6,200 this year (indexed to inflation, will update each year). His example of a person with a "bare-bones" plan now being cancelled would only be accurate if (1) deductible over the maximum indiv or family amount (ie over ~ $6200 indiv, $12,400 family), OR if the old policy completely excluded or placed arbitrary limits (even after deductible paid) on a major benefit type, such as hospital care, physician care, Rx, maternity, mental health. Worth noting that if one of those benefits is totally lacking or severely limited, then the scenario that "if something terrible happened you'd be taken care of" simply is NOT accurate.

And again, even in this latter case cancellation would be occurring ONLY if the plan was purchased AFTER ACA passed, and presumably sold to the consumer without the insurer informing them that they would have to upgrade or end 1/2014.

While there is no argument with the OTM story theme that the Administration talking point failed to capture this depth, the actual rules were NOT closely-held info. Anyone whose job required them to understand the ACA, as mine does, has known this since 2010. Why did insurers not tell their customers? And why is that not part of the story?

Don't take my word for it. Kaiser Family Foundation, Consumer Reports, or Georgetown U Center for health insurance reform can confirm.

Nov. 03 2013 10:45 AM
Bob Gardner from Randolph, MA

The old joke which applies here is the one about the patient who asks the doctor, "Will I be able to play the piano after this gall bladder operation?"
"Of course" replies the surgeon.
Two months later the patient comes tells the doctor "You lied. I tried to play the piano this morning and it sounded terrible."
"Your gall bladder shouldn't affect your piano playing," the doctor replies, "Maybe you're just out of practice. How good a piano player were you before the operation?"
"I don't know--I've never played the piano before."

From what I've been hearing, most of these cancelled policies are not illegal under the ACA--at least not this year. Insurance companies have always had the right to cancel policies if they didn't think it was a good deal. The ACA curtails that right, but it doesn't eliminate it.

Instead of complaining that the media was lazy two or three years ago, reporters might want to check the cancellation rates of insurance policies for the last few years. Has it gone up, down or is it roughly the same?

But what we get instead is a constant stream of reporters fearlessly holding microphones up to pianos while they report that Obama promised us that every gall bladder operation would produce a new musician.

Nov. 03 2013 08:51 AM
Thatwood B. Telling from The Village

To those commenting below:

1) No, at least some of these cancelled policies were not useless. I have one which covers me for anything over about $10K. Below that, I pay. Fortunately, I could afford that if I had to. That, and the fact that I'm healthy and take good care of myself means I think catastrophic coverage of this sort is the way to go-- at least for a few more years. There are thousands of people like me who have carefully weighed the odds based on their age and health, can afford to meet the high deductible, but now don't have this as an option. If you want to make the case that those of us who are paying low premiums for high deductible insurance simply need to pony up more up front in order to make *the entire system* viable, fine. Let's have that debate. But let's not tar all the soon-to-be-defunct high deductible policies with the same brush by calling them useless for those who have them. They aren't.

2) My understanding of the grandfathering clause is that only those who took them out before the law was passed (in 2010?) are entitled to keep their non-ACA-compliant policies. This would mean that insurance companies are not just squeezing their clients by forcing them into more expensive policies that provide better coverage. Rather, this phenomenon is a function of how the act was written. They could have provided for grandfathering up to a different point in time-- let's say, to the point of ACA implementation-- but were probably afraid, justifiably, I'd say, that hordes of people would sign up for them before the law kicked in, thus saddling many thousands of people with policies that are inappropriate for them. (No, this doesn't contradict what I said before in my first point, because what's right for one may not be right for another when it comes to insurance policies. Again, it's a matter of age, health, how much money you have on hand to handle a situation that would cost you your entire deductible, and how you feel about the odds. This choice is now lost to many, in contradiction to what we were promised by the president.)

If this country's going to have a debate about this, let's have one based on the facts as they are, not as we'd like them to be.

Nov. 02 2013 07:12 PM
E Devos from Harrisburg. PA

I am sick and tired of the media blowing this whole "insurance cancellation" thing up as if it were the sinking of the Titanic. The simple fact of the matter is that millions of people were shafted by insurance companies into purchasing policies that are not worth the toilet paper they are written on. Fortunately, most of these policies were bought by fairly healthy people. Most of those people have been very lucky that they did not need to test their coverage. However, there are cases where some people did need proper coverage and they found out, to their chagrin, that these policies covered nothing. A friend of mine found this out. He said that it was the same as having a homeowner policy that only covered you if the home burned absolutely to the ground, and then also finding out that none of the possessions in the home were covered. These are worthless policies, and people should be happy that insurance companies will no longer be able to cheat them. Instead of talking THAT up, the media keeps on talking about how "Obama Lied." Clearly this reflects a direct bias against Obama and an unwillingness to give ALL THE FACTS about this matter.

Nov. 02 2013 04:44 PM
Dave NH from New Hampshire

I came here to post exactly what Bob from NJ said above, that you completely missed the fact that the individual policies canceled since the ACA rollout could have been kept under the grandfathering clause but it was a decision of the insurance companies to try to squeeze a little more out of these customers that caused ~them~ to cancel these bare bones policies.
The real story here is NOT that the ACA is forcing the insurance industry to cancel policies, it's that the insurance industry is once again, shafting the consumer.
I was frankly shocked to hear OTM simply parroting the simplistic version of this story like some TV cable news network. A very poor job of reporting.
Perhaps you need to make a correction.

Nov. 02 2013 01:44 PM
Bob from NJ

I'm surprised that during this whole discussion there was no mention of the "grandfathering" provision in the ACA, which was really the way that people should have been able to keep their old insurance, even if it didn't meet the new requirements. The fact that insurance companies are dropping these plans is more of a business decision rather than the requirements of the law.

There is so much contradictory information being disseminated. I look to NPR to be better at explaining this complicated law. Unfortunately, important information was left out.

Nov. 02 2013 10:00 AM
Thatwood B. Telling from The Village

Yeah, Kessler's right. Obama deserves four Pinocchios. But the Post and the Times deserve five Rip Van Winkles. (OK, how 'bout Andy Capps?)

Nov. 01 2013 10:38 PM

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