According to POLITICO President Barack Obama offered an apology Thursday to those Americans who have been told they’re losing their health insurance plans, contrary to his promise that no one would be forced off a plan they wanted to keep.
“I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me,” the president said in a Thursday interview with NBC News, offering his first mea culpa for an issue that’s generated negative headlines for the White House for the past two weeks.
Obama has ordered his policy aides to draw up an administrative fix for the problem, a White House official said Thursday night. The president alluded to the move during the interview, saying “I’ve assigned my team to see what we can do to close some of the holes and gaps in the law.”
Administration aides are looking for ways to provide relief to consumers who have received cancellation notices but do not qualify for tax subsidies, the White House official said.
The fix is an attempt by the White House to move past an issue that’s damaged the president’s credibility and sparked outrage among Democrats and Republicans. Lawmakers have offered bills to deal with the dropped policies, but those efforts are likely to get bogged down in the divisive politics of Obamacare, which is why the White House is looking at an administrative fix.
“That’s something that we’re gonna do everything we can to get fixed,” Obama said.
But Obama made clear he doesn’t think he lied in what he’d been saying over the past few years.
“I meant what I said. We worked hard to try to make sure we implemented it properly. Obviously we didn’t do a good enough job,” he said.
“We weren’t as clear as we needed to be in terms of the changes that were taking place” in messaging before the insurance companies started taking action this fall, he added.
Millions of Americans have in recent weeks gotten cancellation notices from their insurers, and Obama and others in the White House had previously argued that those decisions were the companies’ to make, even though many were based on needing to meet the minimum requirements of the ACA.
Recent attempts to explain Obama’s previous line on keeping people’s health care plans fell short of Thursday’s apology.
“If you had one of these plans before the Affordable Care Act came into law and you really liked that plan, what we said was you can keep it if it hasn’t changed since the law passed,” Obama said Monday at an event for Organizing for Action, the nonprofit group that works to boost the White House agenda.
In Boston last week, Obama was even less sympathetic, saying that he’d promised that Americans could be grandfathered in to keep “substandard” plans they had when the ACA passed, but that it wasn’t his fault if insurers chose to cancel or change those plans.
“Ever since the law was passed, if insurers decided to downgrade or cancel these substandard plans, what we said under the law is, you’ve got to replace them with quality, comprehensive coverage because that too was a central premise of the Affordable Care Act from the very beginning,” he said.
Obama also said he doesn’t worry much about his credibility taking a hit over what many see as a broken promise.
“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 middle class families … and folks who are trying to get in the middle class who are doing the right thing and being responsible.”
At this point, Obama said Thursday, the administration is communicating with and accommodating those whose plans have been cancelled.
“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,” he said.
Despite the problems with rollout of the ACA, Obama said he stands by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who some Republicans want to see ousted from her job. “Under tremendously difficult circumstances over the last four and a half years, [Sebelius] has done a great job in setting up the insurance markets so that there is a good product out there for people to get,” he said.
Problems with the law’s implementation aren’t her fault. “Kathleen Sebelius doesn’t write code … 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,” Obama said.
Now, he added, his priority is fixing the HealthCare.gov since “ultimately, the buck stops with me …. This is my team. If it’s not working, it’s my job to get it fixed.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wasn’t satisfied with Obama’s answers in the interview Thursday. “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,” he said in a statement. “A great place to start would be to support the Sen. [Ron] Johnson bill that would allow Americans to do what the president promised in the first place: keep the plan they have and like.”