WaPo's Kessler Gives Obama's 'You Can Keep Your Plan' Promise 'Four Pinocchios,' Still Blows Key Points

October 30th, 2013 3:39 PM

43 months after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, another national establishment press outlet has called President Barack Obama's serially made promise that "If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health plan" a lie. Specifically, Washington Post designated fact-checker Glenn Kessler has given it "four Pinocchios," the lowest possible rating on his scale reserved for "whoppers."

Kessler joins other press organizations admitting to the obvious way too late to matter. The Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, with rare exceptions (and note that the linked analysis did not directly address the individual market), studiously avoided looking at the truthfulness of Obama's core Affordable Care Act promise for 3-1/2 years. Finally, on September 30, Calvin Woodward in Paragraph 15 of a multi-item "fact check," called Obama's pledge  "an empty promise, made repeatedly." Kessler's work has one remaining hole that I will identify after presenting excerpts (HT Twitchy; links are in original; bolds are mine):

Obama’s pledge that ‘no one will take away’ your health plan

... The president’s pledge that “if you like your insurance, you will keep it” is one of the most memorable of his presidency. It was also an extraordinarily bold — and possibly foolish — pledge, unless he thought he simply could dictate exactly how the insurance industry must work.

... After Obama made his speech before the AMA, the Associated Press ran a smart analysis — “Promises, Promises: Obama’s Health Plan Guarantee” — that demonstrated how it would be all but impossible for the president to keep that pledge. The article noted that the Congressional Budget Office assumed that 10 million Americans would need to seek new insurance under the Senate version of the bill.

... As we have noted, a key part of the law is forcing insurers to offer an “essential health benefits” package, providing coverage in 10 categories. ...

For some plans, this would be a big change. In 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services noted: “62 percent of enrollees do not have coverage for maternity services; 34 percent of enrollees do not have coverage for substance abuse services; 18 percent of enrollees do not have coverage for mental health services; 9 percent of enrollees do not have coverage for prescription drugs.”

The law did allow “grandfathered” plans — for people who had obtained their insurance before the law was signed on March 23, 2010 — to escape this requirement and some other aspects of the law. But the regulations written by HHS while implementing the law set some tough guidelines, so that if an insurance company makes changes to a plan’s benefits or how much members pay through premiums, copays or deductibles, then a person’s plan likely loses that status.

If you dig into the regulations (go to page 34560), you will see that HHS wrote them extremely tight. One provision says that if copayment increases by more than $5, plus medical cost of inflation, then the plan can no longer be grandfathered. (With last year’s inflation rate of 4 percent, that means the copay could not increase by more than $5.20.) Another provision says the coinsurance rate could not be increased at all above the level it was on March 23, 2010.

Moreover, it’s certainly incorrect to claim, as some Republicans have, that people are losing insurance coverage. Instead, in virtually all cases, it’s being replaced with probably better (and possibly more expensive) insurance.

... The president’s statements were sweeping and unequivocal — and made both before and after the bill became law. The White House now cites technicalities to avoid admitting that he went too far in his repeated pledge, which, after all, is one of the most famous statements of his presidency.

The president’s promise apparently came with a very large caveat: “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan — if we deem it to be adequate.”

Kessler's work has two obvious shortcomings, one an error of commission and the other one of omission, plus an additional oversight which is almost universal in press coverage on all sides.

The error of commission is asserting that it's "certainly incorrect to claim ... that people are losing their coverage." It's drop-dead obvious that if a plan is terminated, that coverage is lost. The fact that it might be replaced with something else doesn't change the fact that the existing plan was first lost. It should also be noted that many people who have lost coverage will choose to roll the dice by not purchasing health coverage next year, and will instead pay the relevant fine, simply because they can't afford the premium hikes in Obamacare plans.

Hopefully, someone will tell people so affected — that someone certainly won't be anyone in the establishment press — that they can buy a non-Obamacare policy before the end of the year which will at least carry them through next year without an ugly increase.

Kessler's error of omission is his failure to note that in the runup to the Affordable Care Act's passage, Obama and his administration were promoting the idea that consumers could keep plans characterized as inadequate. Specifically, as I noted yesterday (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog) in February 2010, mere weeks before the law's passage, Obama told Senator John Kyl the following in response to the Senator's concerns about the individual market:

BARACK OBAMA, Feb. 25, 2010: Actually, any insurance that you currently have would be grandfathered in so you could keep it. So you could decide not to get in the exchange the better plan. I could keep my Acme Insurance, just a high deductible catastrophic plan. I would not be required to get the better one.

Once the bill was safely passed, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius effectively closed off that option with her strict "grandfathering" regulations.

So while it's nice to see Kessler give President Obama's repeated statements the "Four Pinocchio" treatment, the fact remains that he was wrong to say that people aren't losing their coverage (they are, and in many cases it won't be replaced), and wrong to overlook the administration's dishonest promise about how pre-law policies would be treated.

There's a final crucial point, namely that Obamacare's "minimum standards" affect far more than the individual market. They affect every plan, including small group plans, many of which are also being terminated, as seen in this form letter provided to me by a reader:


The extent of that damage is difficult to estimate, but it's hard to imagine that it's small.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.