President Obama offered an apology to Americans who might not be able to keep their health insurance plans because of new minimum standards each provider is required to include by law. "I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me," Obama told NBC News in a response to a question from NBC's Chuck Todd. The president was referring to his much-repeated promise that Americans who liked their healthcare plans before the reform law would be able to keep those plans. The president also addressed the ongoing problems with the Healthcare.gov exchange site, noting that he and the American people had been "burned" by its botched roll-out.
"I meant what I said," Obama said of allowing Americans to keep their plans, "and we worked hard to try to make sure that we implemented it properly. But obviously we didn't do a good enough job." The president said that he's assigned a team of White House staffers to "see what we can do" to close gaps in the law. "We are proud of the consumer protections we've put in place," he said, adding that he wants to make sure no Americans are left without access to affordable insurance because of the health care law reforms. He added: "We've got to work hard to make sure that they know we hear them and we are going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this."
Here's the full interview:
The President denied that his team "short-handed" the health care reform law in the midst of a contentious political climate during its passage. He framed the current reforms as the least "disruptive" reform option out there to fix a system that needed reform. "Everybody is acting as if the existing market was working," Obama added, giving an example of insurers charging women more for insurance than men, and dropping coverage from sick consumers. "When you try to do something big like make our health care system better," the president said, "there are going to be problems along the way."
One of those problems is, of course, the still barely functional Healthcare.gov site. Reiterating that he is "confident" the site will be up and working by November 30th, the President added:
Given that I've been burned already with -- a website-- well, more importantly, the American people have been burned by -- a website that has been dysfunctional, what we've also been doing is creating a whole other set of tracks. Making sure that people can apply by phone effectively. Making sure that people can apply in person effectively. So what I'm confident about is that anybody who wants to buy health insurance through the marketplace, they are gonna be able to buy it.
As for who should take the blame for the roll-out, the President said that he was ultimately responsible, while also partially blaming existing issues in a disconnect between the federal government and IT competence. In response to a question about the Head of the deapartment of Health and Human Services, Obama said, "Kathleen Sebeilus doesn't write code." He added, "if we had to do it all over again, there would have been a whole lot more questions that were being asked."
As written, the health care reforms include a "grandfather" clause that allows some Americans to keep plans they purchased before 2010. But many insurers change their plan offerings more frequently than that, meaning that the Obama administration's promise was more or less doomed from the beginning. Even though many Americans losing their plans are seeing startlingly high alternative plan offerings from their current providers, it's likely that the plans available to those same people on the health insurance exchanges would be comparable or lower, with subsidies. But there's one catch: with the Healthcare.gov exchange website more or less a wasteland of functionality, many Americans haven't even seen what's available to them. This is all confusing and frustrating for Americans who aren't insured through employers or Medicaid. Those latter groups comprise about 80 percent of the population. In the interview, president Obama reiterated that about 5 percent of the population falls under the category of Americans who might get a cancellation letter, adding that many of the cancelled plans are "sub par."
This post has been updated with new information.