< Actually, You Can't "Keep It"


Friday, November 01, 2013

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Another week, another round of troubles for President Obama and his Affordable Health Care Act. This time, the focus was on his claim, repeated endlessly:


PRESIDENT OBAMA:  If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.


BROOKE GLADSTONE:  We learned definitively this week that that was so wrong.

PETER ALEXANDER:  In Los Angeles, that isn’t what Deborah Cavallaro was finding.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Here’s Monday’s NBC Nightly News.


PETER ALEXANDER:  A self-employed realtor, she buys her own insurance. Cavallaro's provider recently sent her this notice, reading, "Because of the requirements of the new laws, we can no longer offer your current policy."

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  The report went on to reveal a smoking gun. PETER ALEXANDER:  That millions will lose or have to change their individual policies is not a surprise to the administration. NBC News senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers found buried in the 2010 Obamacare regulations, language predicting, “A reasonable range for the percentage of individual policies that would terminate is 40 percent to 67 percent."


BOB GARFIELD:  To add insult to perjury, New York Magazine even produced a super cut of the dozens of times the President has made the claim over the past few years.


PRESIDENT OBAMA:  If you like your current insurance –


- you will keep your current insurance.


PRESIDENT OBAMA:  If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  If you’re happy with what you got, nobody’s changing it.


Glenn Kessler writes The Fact Checker blog for the Washington Post, and this week awarded the administration’s claim that no one will take away your health plan four Pinocchios, the rating reserved for real whoppers.

GLENN KESSLER:  I could kind of understand if he said it while the bill was being negotiated, as a kind of an aspirational effort. But then he kept saying this, even as his government was providing statistics and information that was making clear that that pledge was really not sustainable.

BOB GARFIELD:  Now, it's a lie but it's kind of a lie with an asterisk because yes, as it turns out, the government can compel you to change your insurance but only if it doesn't meet certain minimum standards for coverage. So whatever you are compelled to replace it with is gonna be better. So it’s – not quite as egregious a lie, right?

GLENN KESSLER:  It was rather unequivocal:  If you like your plan, you can keep it, period. I mean, it would be fine if he had said, there are a bunch of plans out there that really aren't good for you, and we’re gonna actually give you better  plans that work more for you, and you're not gonna be stuck in those bad plans. That wasn’t what he said. So now, we’re at the moment where, as one of my colleagues put the, sound bite bit back, because now there are actual victims that TV can focus on, people holding up notices saying their insurance had been canceled.

BOB GARFIELD:  Is that how the press should operate, to have to wait - now it’s, you know, five years into this process - to have poster children, in order to get to the root of a story?

GLENN KESSLER:  Let's face it, health care is a very complex subject, and a lot of that coverage is TV coverage. TV coverage, in particular, likes to have a victim. The estimate that I saw was that probably about 9 million people are gonna end up having to pay higher premiums and coverage they didn't really want. Well, that’s 9 million potential anecdotes that now the media can bring up.

BOB GARFIELD:  Can you think of anything the administration could or should have done in, in selling this plan and in talking about it over these last five years to render their claim Pinocchio-less?

GLENN KESSLER:  What the administration needed to do was be more honest about the fact that some of the plans out there, they believed were substandard, were a rip-off for the American taxpayer, and they were going to make sure those plans disappeared.  One of the other reasons why I gave the claim four Pinocchio's is that one reason why a lot of plans are disappearing right now is because of the specific way the administration wrote the regs, in order to force the disappearance of these plans. And there are some people out there that like the idea that they were buying a bare-bones policy, not paying a lot of money but if they were hit by a truck, they would be covered in some way. That option is really disappearing in the Affordable Care Act.

BOB GARFIELD:  Clearly, the administration believed that it accrued political advantage by saying, don't worry, don't worry, don't worry. Can the political advantage of having done that, to calm the public down over the last five years, possibly compensate for the uproar that it has to deal with now, that people realize they’ve been sold a bill of goods?

GLENN KESSLER:  I mean, the reason why they were making those statements was, of course, there were fighting the last war, which was the effort under the Clinton administration to pass healthcare reform. During that battle, the opponents successfully made people believe that they were gonna lose their plans. So this administration decided we’re going to deal with that by saying you're not gonna lose your plans. Now, they might have been in a better position if the healthcare website was working, and some of these people who are getting cancellation notices could actually go on the website and discover –


- well gee, this is not a bad deal, after all. But they’re not able to do that.


GLENN KESSLER:  So it's a double whammy of the false promise and a website that is causing a lot of angst, and that may be very difficult to recover from.

BOB GARFIELD:  Glenn, thank you very much.

GLENN KESSLER:  You're welcome.

BOB GARFIELD:  Glenn Kessler writes The Fact Checker blog for the Washington Post. He is the dispenser of Pinocchios.


Glenn Kessler

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Bob Garfield