'Lie of the Year': Why Obama's healthcare claim is a 'winner'

'Lie of the Year': The political fact-checking website, PolitiFact, says Obama's statement, "If you like your health care plan, you can keep it," has earned its 'Lie of the Year' award in 2013.

"If you like your health care plan, you can keep it," President Barack Obama said.

He said it not just once, but at least 37 times in recent years, according to PolitiFact.com.

That statement earned Obama a "Half True" rating from the political fact-checking site. In early November, Obama modified the original statement and that got him a "Pants on Fire" rating for saying "Now, if you have or 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."

Now, Obama has garnered PolitiFact's annual "Lie of the Year" award. And its readers agreed. 

In a poll, 59 percent rated Obama's claim as the biggest political fib of the year. The runner up, according to the poll, was also a healthcare whopper:

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said, "President Obama just granted all of Congress an exception" to Obamacare during an August speech in Iowa. But only 8 percent of PolitiFact readers voted for that as the year's biggest fabrication.

In fact, in four of the past five years, falsehoods about healthcare have earned the PolitiFact "Lie of the Year" award.

While only a small percentage of Americans (about 2 percent out of the total insured population of 262 million) have seen their healthcare insurance policies canceled due to the Affordable Care Act, that group has gotten plenty of media attention.

As PolitiFact notes, Obama made the original mistake of oversimplifying a complex change, and then compounded the mistake.

Boiling down the complicated health care law to a soundbite proved treacherous, even for its promoter-in-chief.  Obama and his team made matters worse, suggesting they had been misunderstood all along. The stunning political uproar led to this: a rare presidential apology....

Obama’s ideas on health care were first offered as general outlines then grew into specific legislation over the course of his presidency. Yet Obama never adjusted his rhetoric to give people a more accurate sense of the law’s real-world repercussions, even as fact-checkers flagged his statements as exaggerated at best.

The combination of the repeated oversimplification and mishandling of this lie, on top of a botched roll out of healthcare.gov, have pushed Obama's popularity ratings into the basement.

As The Christian Science Monitor reported in early November:

All the stumbles are likely behind Obama’s sinking job approval ratings. The RealClearPolitics.com average of major polls shows him at 43.9 percent. The latest Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll shows Obama’s Presidential Leadership Index – which combines job approval, leadership, and favorability ratings – is at an all-time low of 43 (where a score of 50 is neutral).

The calamitous launch of HealthCare.gov may have damaged Obama’s image the most. After all, he ran two presidential campaigns featuring cutting-edge technology. Obviously, hiring people to build state-of-the-art technology for a presidential campaign is wholly different from presiding over a vast executive branch that includes an agency tasked with building a complex computer system, heavily staffed by contractors and subject to all the rules of government procurement. Still, analysts say, Obama should have had an early-warning system in place to let him – or more precisely, a top White House aide – know that the rollout of HealthCare.gov should possibly be delayed.

By December, the polls showed that Obama's approval ratings – and perhaps more importantly, his party's ratings – continued to sink. In his last two years in office, the ability of the Democrats to maintain control of the Senate and perhaps the White House in coming elections, may depend on the public's perception of the success - or failure - of the Affordable Care Act.

[Editor's note: The original post incorrectly stated that Politifact gave Obama a "Pants on Fire" rating for his original statement. In fact, that rating didn't come until after Obama modified the statement on Nov. 4, 2013.]

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