Obama: Majority, not all, can keep their plans

Lauren Schneiderman

President Obama on Wednesday downgraded his long-standing promise that people can keep their healthcare policies if they like them and said instead that “the vast majority” could.

While insisting in a speech at Boston’s Faneuil Hall that relatively few would be forced off their plans, he accused his opponents of “grossly misleading” the public.

“For the vast majority of people who have health insurance that works, you can keep it,” Obama said. “For the fewer than 5 percent of Americans who buy insurance on your own, you will be getting a better deal.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have received letters notifying them that their plans will be canceled by the end of the year.

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This has created a growing political problem for the White House, which is already being heavily criticized by friends and foes alike for the many failures of the ObamaCare enrollment website, which is still not working a month after its launch.

Insurance companies say they are changing the terms of some health insurance plans because ObamaCare’s rules force them to.

The healthcare law requires insurers to provide plans that have a core set of benefits including preventive care, birth control and maternity care. Insurance companies are in some cases discontinuing policies that don’t include those benefits, and they are not allowed to offer new policies without those coverage areas.

Obama on Wednesday acknowledged that some people will be forced to choose broader, more expensive plans that comply with ObamaCare. But he argued that people would be better off.

“There’s a fraction of Americans with higher incomes who will pay more on the front end for better insurance with better benefits,” he said.

“Because of the tax credits that we’re offering and the competition between insurers, most people are going to be able to get better, comprehensive healthcare plans for the same price or even cheaper than projected,” he added. “You’re going to get a better deal.”

He also insisted that “nobody is losing their right to healthcare coverage.”

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) accused Obama of continuing to “mislead the American people.”

“The president promised that if you like your healthcare plan, you can keep it. It wasn’t true when he said it years ago, and, as millions of Americans are finding out, it’s not true now,” Boehner said.

Obama’s speech came after a tough day for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Capitol Hill.

Sebelius, who has become the face of the troubled ObamaCare website’s rollout, took a conciliatory tack with the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The secretary said she was “as frustrated and angry as anyone with the flawed launch,” and took responsibility for the problems.

“You deserve better,” she said. “I apologize.”

The administration hopes to have the website fixed by the end of November.

Republicans said they had doubts given assurances they were given that the website would work before its launch.

“Over the months leading up to the Oct. 1 launch, the secretary and her colleagues at HHS repeatedly looked us in the eye and testified that everything was on track,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.). “But something happened along the way — either those officials did not know how bad the situation was, or they did not disclose it.” 

Sebelius also sought to defend the administration on the issue of the canceled plans.

She said Obama had kept his promise in the face of questioning from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who argued ObamaCare was only allowing people to sign up for souped-up healthcare plans.

“Some people like to drive a Ford, not a Ferrari,” Blackburn said. “You’re taking away their choice.” 

Like the president, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the number of people who will have to change plans under the law is small. She also argued they will benefit by moving into new plans with better coverage.

“While you might like your old plan, what you’re going to get under the new plan is that [it does] not discriminate on the basis of pre-existing conditions, does not deny you a key benefit like ... maternal, mental health or prescription drug coverage and cannot drop you when you are sick,” Pelosi said during a press conference in the Capitol. 

Obama said there is “no excuse” for the technical glitches and that he took “full responsibility for making sure it gets fixed.”

“The website is too slow, too many people have gotten stuck, and I am not happy about it,” Obama said. “Neither are a lot of Americans who need healthcare.”

But he defended the law as a whole, saying it would expand health coverage to the uninsured and improve the economy.

Obama chose Faneuil Hall as the site of his speech in part because that’s where 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney signed the Massachusetts healthcare reform law.

The president noted the Massachusetts law faced problems upon its entry, but is now a success.

“That doesn’t mean it was perfect right away. There were early problems to solve,” Obama said.

He also said Republicans were trying to hype up problems with the law in a bid to make it fail.

“The same folks trying to scare people now are the same folks who’ve been trying to sink the Affordable Care Act from the beginning,” Obama said.