VIDEO: Watch Obama (kinda, sorta) apologize to Americans’ losing their health plans

November 7, 2013

President Obama is offering an apology to Americans who have received insurance cancellation notices--sort of.

In an interview with NBC News, the president says "I'm sorry" to Americans who are losing their health plans.

"I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me," he told NBC News in an exclusive interview at the White House.

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What Obama isn't offering is an apology for the cancellation notices themselves. Eliminating certain health plans from the market -- ones that the White House thinks are too skimpy -- is a feature, not a bug, of the Affordable Care Act. You can read more about that here in our FAQ on why about 7 million to 12 million health plans are being terminated under the Affordable Care Act.

And, via NBC News, here's a complete transcript of the interview on health care between NBC's Chuck Todd and President Obama.

CHUCK TODD:
Thank you, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:
Great to see you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:
Thanks to you. I'll start with health care. It's probably the most quoted thing or requoted thing you have said in your presidency, "If you like your health care plan, you can keep it." You said it a lot during the run up. At this point, though, it's obviously something-- a promise that has not been able to be kept. Just today, the Denver Post -- 250,000 people in Colorado are seeing health insurance policies cancelled. Some of those people liked those policies. And they can't keep them. What happened?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:
Well-- first of all, I meant what I said. And we worked hard to try to make sure that we implemented it properly. But obviously, we didn't do enough-- a good enough job-- and I regret that. We're talking about 5% of the population-- who are in what's called the individual market. They're out there buying health insurance on their own.

A lot of these plans are subpar plans. And we put in a clause in the law that said if you had one of those plans, even if it was subpar-- when the law was passed, you could keep it. But there's enough churn in the market that folks since then have bought subpar plans. And now that may be all they can afford. So even though it only affects a small amount of the population, you know, it means a lot to them, obviously, when they get-- this letter cancelled.

And-- you know, I am deeply concerned about it. And I've assigned my team to see what we can do to close some of the holes and gaps in the law-- because, you know, my intention is to lift up and make sure the insurance that people buy is effective. That it's actually going to deliver what they think they're purchasing. Because what we know is before the law was passed, a lot of these plans, people thought they had insurance coverage. And then they'd find out that they had huge out of pocket expenses. Or women were being charged more than men.

If you had preexisting conditions, you just couldn't get it at all. And we are proud of the consumer protections we put into place. On the other hand, we also want to make sure that-- nobody is put in a position where their plan's been cancelled. They can't afford a better plan, even though they'd like to have a better plan. And so we're going to have to work hard-- to make sure that those folks-- are, you know, taken care of.

CHUCK TODD:
Do you feel like you owe these folks an apology for misleading them?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:
You know--

CHUCK TODD:
Even if you didn't intentionally do it, but at this point, they feel misled. And you've seen the anger that's out there.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:
You know-- I regret very much that-- what we intended to do, which is to make sure that everybody is moving into better plans because they want 'em, as opposed to because they're forced into it. That, you know, we weren't as clear as we needed to be-- in terms of the changes that were taking place. And I want to do everything we can to make sure that people are finding themselves in a good position-- a better position than they were before this law happened.

Keep in mind that most of the folks who are going to-- who got these c-- cancellation letters, they'll be able to get better care at the same cost or cheaper in these new marketplaces. Because they'll have more choice. They'll have more competition. They're part of a bigger pool. Insurance companies are going to be hungry for their business.

So-- the majority of folks will end up being better off, of course, because the website's not working right. They don’t necessarily know it right. But it-- even though it's a small percentage of folks who may be disadvantaged, you know, it means a lot to them. And it's scary to them. And I am sorry that they-- you know, are finding themselves in this situation, based on assurances they got from me. We've got to work hard to make sure that-- they know-- we hear 'em and that we're going to do everything we can-- to deal with folks who find themselves-- in a tough position as a consequence of this.

CHUCK TODD:
You've been getting some tough criticism on this quote. Clarence Page, your hometown newspaper, The Chicago Tribune, this is not-- not (UNINTEL PHRASE) White House. He's been pretty supportive of what you said. He characterized this as a political lie. He called it a sort of-- "the sort of rosy promise politicians sometimes make with such passion and confidence that they actually may have convinced even themselves that it is true." (UNINTEL PHRASE) did politics play a role and you felt as if as the Republicans were throwing stuff at the law that you're trying to pass it. You're trying to do this, that you shorthanded this?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:
No, I-- I think we, in good faith, have been trying to take on a health care system that has been broken for a very long time. And what we've been trying to do is to change it in the least disruptive way possible. I mean, keep in mind that there were folks on the left who would have preferred a single payer plan. That would have been a lot more disruptive. There were folks on the right who said, "Let's just get rid of-- you know, employer deductions for health care. And give people-- a tax credit and they can go buy their own health care in their own market." That would have been more disruptive.

We tried to find-- a proven model. We've seen it work in Massachusetts. That would be as-- as undisruptive as possible. And in good faith, tried to write the law in such a way that people could keep their care. Although we really believe that ultimately, they're going to be better off when they're buying health care through the marketplaces. They can-- access tax credits. And they're benefiting from more choice and competition. But obviously, we didn't do a good enough job in terms of how we crafted the law. And, you know, that's something that I regret. That's something that we're going to do everything we can to get fixed. In the meantime--

CHUCK TODD:
By the way, that sounds like you're supportive of this legislation.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:
Well, you-- you know--

CHUCK TODD:
Various things that are out there.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:
We're-- we're looking at-- a range of options. But the one thing I want to emphasize, though, Chuck, is everybody is acting as if the existing market was working. And the fact of the matter is that a whole lot of people who were in this individual market, who were buying health care on their own, because they're not getting it through their employer, they might be happy with it this year. And then suddenly next year, the cost got jacked up by 15%-20%.

The average increase on premiums in this individual market for somebody who kept their-- health care for awhile, the average increase was double digits. If they-- actually got sick and used the insurance, they might find the next year their premiums had gone up. Or the insurer might have dropped them altogether, because now they had a preexisting condition.

Women were being charged as much as double compared to men. So this is a market that wasn't working. And a whole lot of people were dissatisfied. And what we've done is to increase the consumer protections that are in place for those families and those folks. We've said, "You can't drop people when they get sick and need it most." We've said that you can't-- you know, have lifetime limits so that suddenly people think they've got insurance, the next thing they know they've got $30,000-$40,000 out of pocket expenses.

And over the long term, that is the right thing to do. But in this transition, you know, there are going to be folks who get a cancellation letter, especially when a website's not working. They're looking and saying, "What am I going to do now?" And-- you know, we have to make sure that they-- are not feeling as if they've been betrayed by an effort that-- is designed to help them.

CHUCK TODD:
Do you feel-- considering how much this quote has been-- it's late night, it's all sorts of things, that-- do you understand that people are going to be skeptical of the next promise you make, of the next-- or are you concerned that people are going to be wondering, "Jeez, what is the fine print that he's not telling me?" Do you get that people might be a little more skeptical? Forget the partisans here in Washington, just average Americans.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:
You know, I-- I-- I'll tell you, Chuck. I-- I think that-- I've now been in national public life for seven, eight years. I've been president for-- almost five. And I think for the most part people know that I speak my mind and I tell folks what I think and I've been very clear about what I'm trying to do. And I think most people know that-- even if they disagree with me on certain issues-- that I'm every day working hard to try to make life a little bit better for middleclass families who are-- and folks who are trying to get in the middleclass who are doing the right thing and being responsible.

I think what most people I hope also recognize is that when you try to do something big like make our health care system better that there're going to be problems along the way, even if ultimately what you're doing is going to make a whole lot of people better off. And-- I hope that people will-- look at the end product. And they're going to be able to look back and say, "You know what? We now have protections that we didn't have before. We've gotten more choice and competition. I didn't have health insurance. I now have it. I had bad health insurance. I now have good health insurance. The website's actually working. (LAUGH) I'm getting-- you know, I'm getting-- you know, my kid on my insurance plan, even though he's got asthma or some other preexisting condition." So ultimately, I think I'll be judged on whether this thing is better for people overall. And in the meantime, even if it's a small percentage of people. I mean, we're talking about 5% of the population. But-- but that's-- a significant number of people. Even though a whole lot of them are going to be better off. There's going to be a segment who-- you know, I've ultimately got to make sure that-- you know, I'm speaking to their needs and their concerns. And, you know-- I take that very seriously, because I want everybody out there to know that, you know, my entire intention here is to make sure that-- people have the security of affordable health care.

CHUCK TODD:
You have 21 days until November 30th. Is this website going to be running smoothly enough? If it's not, at that point, do you sit there and say, "Okay, let's extend the enrollment period. Let's delay the mandate." Do all of those plan B's start coming into focus if November 30th hits?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:
Well, that-- let me just say generally-- and I don't think I'm saying anything that people don't know and I haven't said before. I am deeply frustrated about-- how this website has not worked over the first couple of weeks. And, you know, I take responsibility of that. My team take responsibility of that. And we are working every single day, 24/7, to improve it. And it's better now than it was last week. And it's certainly a lot better than it was on October 1st.

I'm confident that it will be even better by November 30th and that the majority of people are going to be able to get on there. They're going to be able to enroll. They're going to be able to apply. And they're going to get a good deal-- a better deal than they've got right now when it comes to buying health insurance.

Now that-- you know, having said that-- 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 going to be able to buy it. And--

CHUCK TODD:
So no delays? You-- you have no plans or might-- might--

PRESIDENT OBAMA:
Keep in mind-- keep in mind that the open enrollment period, the period during which you can buy health insurance is available all the way until March 31st. And we're only five weeks into it. So we've got a whole bunch of time not only to get the website fixed, to work out all the kinks, to make sure that everybody has the information that they need. And what we'll do is-- continue to assess if there are roadblocks for people, we're going to clear out those roadblocks. We are going to make sure that they can access--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:
--whatever it takes?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:
Whatever it takes for people to be able to get what is good-quality health insurance at cheaper prices or better insurance for the same price as bad insurance-- that they've got right now. We're going to make sure that they have access to that market.

CHUCK TODD:
You still have full confidence in Kathleen Sebelius?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:
You know, I think Kathleen Sebelius, under tremendously difficult circumstances over the last four and a half years-- has done a great job in setting up-- the insurance markets so that there is a good product out there for people to get. You know, Kathleen Sebelius doesn't write code. Yeah, she wasn't our I.T. person. I think she'd be the first to admit that-- if we had to do it all over again, that there would have been a whole lot more questions that were asked, in terms of how this thing is working. But my priority right now is to get it fixed. And-- you know, ultimately, the buck--

CHUCK TODD:
Is she still the right person (UNINTEL)?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:
Ultimately, the buck stops with me. You know, I'm the president. This is my team. If it's not working, it's my job to get it fixed.

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