Smoking gun? Critics cite evidence Obama knew Americans would lose coverage

Did Obama simply misspeak when he said Americans could keep their existing health insurance policies, or did he know that to have been false? Critics say there's clear evidence that he lied.

Charles Dharapak/AP
President Obama pauses while speaking about the new health care law in the White House press room. Critics say Obama lied when he said Americans could keep their existing plans under the Affordable Care Act.

The GOP has been piling on President Obama over his now-discredited insistence that Americans could keep their existing health plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

 “If you like your health-care plan, you will be able to keep your health-care plan. Period,” Obama said repeatedly, going back to when Obamacare was a bill being argued in Congress. “No one will take it away. No matter what.”

That turned out to have been wrong, as millions of Americans found out when they learned that their existing health insurance policies were being canceled because they didn’t meet the requirements of the ACA.

But did Obama simply misspeak when he made those assurances, perhaps unaware of some of the details of his own signature program? Or did he know them to have been false? Either conclusion does political damage.

Although he didn’t use the word “lied” on the Republican radio and Internet address Saturday, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin came down hard on Obama.

“Those assurances weren't slight exaggerations or innocent shadings of the truth. They were statements that were fully vetted, coldly calculated, and carefully crafted to deceptively sell your health care plan to a trusting public,” Johnson charged. “It was a political fraud echoed relentlessly by House and Senate Democrats who should be held accountable for the disastrous consequences of their grand deception.”

On Sunday, Liz Cheney – daughter of the former vice president and a tea party-favored candidate to oust Republican incumbent Mike Enzi in next year’s US Senate race in Wyoming – didn’t hesitate to say Obama lied.

On Fox News, Chris Wallace asked her, “Do you believe that President Obama knowingly lied when he went around the country and promised ‘if you like your insurance you can keep your plan’?”

“I do,” she replied.

“There's no question but that he lied, and we're all paying the price for it now,” Cheney said. “There's no way he could not have known the truth. There was very clearly a situation in which they were thinking, you know what, the media never hold us accountable, they're not going to hold us accountable here.”

Putting aside any motives Obama may have had, what’s the evidence that he “lied,” as a growing number of elected officials, candidates, and commentators now charge?

The more liberal view is that “there is much less here than meets the eye,” as Dean Baker, co-director of the progressive Center for Economic and Policy Research, put it in Salon the other day.

“The plans being terminated because they don’t meet the minimal standards were all plans that insurers introduced after the passage of the ACA,” he wrote. “Insurers introduced these plans knowing that they would not meet the standards that would come into effect in 2014.”

“If the insurers didn’t tell their clients that the new plans would only be available for a short period of time, the blame would seem to rest with the insurance companies, not the ACA,” Baker wrote. “After all, President Obama did not promise people that he would keep insurers from developing new plans that will not comply with the provisions of the ACA.”

Not so, critics of Obama say, and they point to evidence they say shows that the White House knew what was coming but disregarded that evidence for political purposes.

“It turns out that an obscure report buried in a 2010 edition of the Federal Register [page 34552] administration officials predicted a massive disruption of the private insurance market,” writes Avik Roy on the Forbes web site.

Digging by other reporters came to the same conclusion.

Lisa Myers and Hannah Rappleye of NBC News reported: “Buried in Obamacare regulations from July 2010 is an estimate that because of normal turnover in the individual insurance market, ‘40 to 67 percent’ of customers will not be able to keep their policy. And because many policies will have been changed since the key date, ‘the percentage of individual market policies losing grandfather status in a given year exceeds the 40 to 67 percent range.’”  

“That means the administration knew that more than 40 to 67 percent of those in the individual market would not be able to keep their plans, even if they liked them,” Myers and Rappleye wrote on the NBC News web site.

Did Obama “lie” about that? The debate continues.

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