(Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama said he’s sorry that thousands of Americans are losing their medical insurance as a result of his health care law, as his administration works to contain the political damage from the troubled roll-out of his signature domestic achievement.
Hundreds of thousands of individual health insurance plans are being canceled, contradicting Obama’s repeated pledge that people who like their coverage would be able to keep it when the Affordable Care Act took effect.
“I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me,” Obama told NBC News in an interview at the White House Thursday. “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.”
Obama’s public approval ratings have been driven down by the flawed startup of the government website intended as the main gateway to federal healthcare exchanges under the ACA and stories about canceled policies.
His oft-repeated pledge that individuals would be able to keep their coverage and their doctors was a central selling point of his health care overhaul, aimed at calming consumers concerned that they would be forced to give up policies and doctors they liked as the program expanded coverage to many of the nation’s 48 million uninsured.
Republicans pounced on the president’s remarks, attacking Obama for not supporting legislation they have pushed that would allow Americans to keep their current plans.
“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,” Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said in a statement Thursday.
House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, echoed McConnell, saying in a statement that “an apology is certainly in order, but what Americans want to hear is that the president is going to keep his promise.”
The House plans next week to take up a measure that would allow individuals to keep their plans even if the coverage failed to meet the health law’s standards.
The law requires all Americans to be covered next year or pay a penalty. Those who want plans that begin Jan. 1 must enroll by Dec. 15 — by mail, phone or through the federal or state-run exchanges. Speaking to NBC, Obama asked voters to judge the ACA based on the final results — not the technical issues many have faced during the enrollment period.
“When you try to do something big like make our health care system better, there are going to be problems along the way,” he said. “I hope that people will look at the end product.”
Obama previously accused his critics of being “grossly misleading” about how the law works and said those people being thrown off plans that don’t meet the law’s standards will be getting better insurance coverage.
Yet, administration officials knew by June 2010 that as many as 10 million people with individual insurance probably would be thrown off existing plans. The cancellations are a result of provisions in the act, which Obama signed into law in March 2010, that say policies that fail to offer benefits such as prescription drug coverage and free preventive care can’t be sold after this year even if they’re cheaper.
The administration had set a target of 800,000 ACA enrollments for the first two months. Speaking to a Senate panel on Nov. 6, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the initial enrollment for the first month of the program, which will be announced by the administration next week, will be “very low,” though she declined to provide specific figures.
Larry Summers, Obama’s top economic adviser from 2009-2010, blamed the Healthcare.gov website’s troubles on anti-government sentiment fostered by ACA opponents that has discouraged people from entering the federal workforce.
“They have made it almost impossible for many well-intentioned people to go into government,” Summers said in an interview on the Fusion television network. “The fact that it takes so long to be confirmed by the Senate, the fact that you have to go through the financial equivalent of a colonoscopy to enter government.”
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