November 5, 2013

President Obama certainly messed up in telling the American people over and over again that “if you like your [health care] plan you can keep it.” The compilation put together by New York magazine is a painful reminder for the West Wing.

It was an oversimplification that he inartfully tried to clear up last night at an Obama for America event in Washington.

Every year there was churn in this individual market. The average increase was double-digits on premiums in the same market, with or without the Affordable Care Act. People were getting, oftentimes, a very bad deal. And as a consequence, what you had is Americans who’d be dropped from coverage, exposed to massive double-digit premium increases, or most frequently, they’d just be denied access altogether because of some preexisting condition.

Now, if you have or had one of these plans before the Affordable Care Act came into law and you really like that plan, what we said was you could keep it if it hasn’t changed since the law was passed. So we wrote into the Affordable Care Act, you’re grandfathered in on that plan.

But if the insurance company changes it, then what we’re saying is they’ve got to change it to a higher standard. They’ve got to make it better.  They’ve got to improve the quality of the plan that they’re selling.  That’s part of the promise that we made, too. That’s why we went out of our way to make sure that the law allowed for grandfathering, but if we had allowed these old plans to be downgraded or sold to new enrollees once the law had already passed, then we would have broken an even more important promise — making sure that Americans gain access to health care that doesn’t leave them one illness away from financial ruin.

President Bush aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003. (Stephen Jaffe/AFP/Getty Images) President Bush aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003. (Stephen Jaffe/AFP/Getty Images)

Even in context, there is no way around the fact that the president never added “if it hasn’t changed since the law was passed” when he explained how the Affordable Care Act would impact folks in the individual insurance market. What’s getting lost is that Obama is getting clobbered for an overstatement that applies to a sliver of the 263 million people who have health insurance. As Jonathan Chait pointed out on NYMag.com, “The minority facing sticker shock has become a stand-in for the entire public.”

But for the president’s critics, Obama’s repeated misstatement is a damnable lie. My colleague Marc Thiessen, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, goes so far as to brand the Obama presidency a “dishonest” one. But the more he and other Obama-bashers highlight that New York magazine video loop, the more I’m reminded of falsehoods that had greater and deadlier consequences.

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In his State of the Union address on Jan. 28, 2003, Bush said, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow called this utterance, “the most important line in any modern State of the union” because “it was a lie.” A grave one that led the nation into war with Iraq on March 19, 2003.

And then there was this.

After landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln just off the coast of San Diego on May 1, 2003, the president declared, “My fellow Americans, major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.” The last American troops would not leave until Dec. 18, 2011. But the war is far from over.

Taking Obama to task for his “deception” on the ACA, the National Journal’s Ron Fournier said, “On history’s scale of deception, this one leaves a light footprint. Worse lies have been told by worse presidents, leading to more severe consequences . . . ” Given all that’s happened over the last decade, we would all do well to keep this in perspective.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.
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