In an astonishing display of contrition, last Thursday President Obama apologized to Americans who are losing their health insurance plans as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In recent weeks the president has been the subject of harsh criticism regarding the tumultuous debut of healthcare.gov and claims that he mislead the American people. The president also extended an apology to Congressional Democrats who supported him on the bill, some of who are up for reelection in 2014 and politically vulnerable after the botched health care roll out.
“I completely get how upsetting this can be for a lot of Americans, particularly after assurances they heard from me that if they had a plan that they liked, they could keep it,” the president said.
During the hour-long news conference the president admitted, “we should have done a better job … right on day one.” When asked about his pledge that Americans happy with their health plans would not be forced to change them he stated “there is no doubt that the way I put that forward unequivocally ended up not being accurate.”
Throughout debate of the ACA and after its passage, the president repeatedly assured Americas that if they liked their health care plans they would be able to keep them. Contrary to his claims, 3.5 million Americans have received cancellation notices from their insurance companies. The cancelled plans are individual policies; and approximately five percent – or 15.8 million – of Americans purchased such plans alternatively to more common routes to coverage like employer based health plans, Medicare, Medicaid, or veteran’s benefits. The cancelled policies do not meet requirements of the new health care law including stipulations that plans cover emergency treatment, prescription drugs, and hospital stays.
The President’s approval rating is 39 percent, an all time low. And for the first time a majority of Americans consider him untrustworthy.
The political toxicity permeating Obamacare is cause for alarm among Congressional Democrats, some of who are running for reelection in 2014. The nine-point lead democrats enjoyed with voters over Republicans at the beginning of last month –during the partial government shutdown – has evaporated. During his press conference, the President went to great lengths to ease criticism of his party’s members. Regarding misinformation and cancelled health plans, the President shielded Democratic congressmen stating, “they were making representations based on what I told them and what this White House and our administrative staff told them, and so it’s not on them, it’s on us.” Over the course of the conference, Obama said the health law’s mistakes are “on me,” three times.
Obama put forward a proposal that would allow health plans that are in violation of the law to continue for another year for enrollees that already have such plans. But given the hostile political climate and Republicans eagerly seizing on the blunders of the health care law, Democrats up for reelection have voiced support for further reform. Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, who is running for a second term, stated that the president’s reform “doesn’t go as far as I’d like.”
Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu proposed a mandate that insurance companies reinstate canceled plans. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin supports a one-year delay for penalties for not having insurance. And New Hampshire Democrat, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, is in favor of extending the open enrollment period for insurance exchanges, which is planned to close March 31.
The “most significant legislative rebuke” of the president’s health care reform, and indication of the level of Democrat agitation over the mishandled rollout, 39 members of the president’s party voted for a Republican health bill in the House on November 15. The bill passed 261-157 but was unlikely to pass in the Democrat controlled senate. The White House has stated that if passed, the President would veto the legislation.
The bill proposed by Michigan representative Fred Upton addresses the recently cancelled health care plans. It would permit Americans whose plans were cancelled to keep those plans and additionally would allow insurers to continue selling policies “that do not cover basic services and offer little financial help for catastrophic health events.” The Republican legislation would effectively undermine the President’s healthcare legislation. But Democrats running for reelection in 2014 are responding to the widespread unpopularity thus far of Obamacare.
One of the 39 Dems to vote for the Republican legislation, Arizona Representative Ron Barber said, “Today I voted to give people the option to keep their current plan until these and other issues are resolved. That’s only fair.”