WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama apologized on Thursday to millions of Americans who are finding out they can no longer keep their health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—aka “Obamacare.”
“I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me,” Obama told NBC News in an interview at the White House.
The president’s comments came as his administration is reeling from the fallout over the healthcare law’s rollout. The nation was initially fixated on the law’s broken website, HealthCare.gov, but attention has since shifted to the millions of Americans who are receiving health insurance cancellation notices, despite repeated promises from Obama—dating back to 2009—that everyone who liked their insurance plan could keep it.
“Obviously we didn’t do a good enough job in terms of how we crafted the law,” the president said in the interview Thursday. “And, you know, that’s something I regret.”
NBC previously reported the administration knew as early as 2010 that “40 to 67 percent” of those with individual health insurance policies would be required to get new coverage. The ACA mandates every plan must have 10 essential benefits, all of which are not included in many existing individual policies.
The news that millions would lose their plans didn’t come as a shock to healthcare experts, including Daniel Sledge, a health policy professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, who told me he wasn’t surprised many would need to upgrade their coverage.
“The tendency in the administration is basically to act as if people who have these lower quality health insurance plans don’t have coverage,” Sledge said. “The administration viewed those as something people would be happy to get rid of.”
The president last week blamed “bad apple insurers” for the cancellation notices, saying Obamacare is eliminating plans with insufficient coverage. But some consumers say their new options, in addition to being more expensive, actually cover less than their old policies, and cancellations are coming from more than just private insurance companies.
The Obama administration said it did not mislead Americans, because plans obtained before March 23, 2010, are eligible to be grandfathered into the new law. But even small changes to existing plans render them ineligible, and most Americans weren’t aware of the March 2010 deadline—almost four years prior to the law’s full implementation at the start of 2014.
Jeremy Oosterhouse, a 29-year-old husband and father of two in Palos Heights, Ill., said he found out last week about the 2010 deadline, and now he’s facing sharply higher premiums and deductibles under the law.
“My current plan I’ve had for two years,” he said. “I didn’t realize changing would mean I lost it.”
Oosterhouse said he’s frustrated with the 10 essential benefits, some of which, such as mental health coverage, he will never use. He also said he would want to drop maternity coverage once he and his wife are finished having children: “I wish we had a system in place where we could pick and choose the benefits we want.”
Peter Ubel, a physician and professor of medicine at Duke University, told me consumers are getting a crash course on “Insurance 101.”
“We’re all going to pay for stuff we don’t need, and ultimately when we need stuff, other people will help pay for it,” he said. “That’s what insurance does.”
Ubel said people should recognize that most won’t get out what they paid in to the system, and they should approach insurance as protection against the unlikely catastrophic event: “That’s why my entire life I’ve spent money on house insurance that covers fire, even though my house has never caught fire.”
Obama has recently changed his pledge to Americans, noting they can keep their plans if they haven’t significantly changed them since the law passed. He maintains that most people will end up better off under the new system.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., dismissed the president’s apology as pointless unless he backs bi-partisan legislation—the “If You Like Your Plan You Can Keep It Act”—that would guarantee all Americans can keep the coverage they have.
“If the president is truly sorry for breaking his promises to the American people, he’ll do more than just issue a half-hearted apology on TV,” McConnell said in a statement.