For the second time in as many months, President Barack Obama has dramatically changed his communications strategy for coping with the troubled rollout of his signature legislation.
In an interview Thursday with NBC‘s Chuck Todd, the President apologized for the fact that some people in the individual insurance market had found their health plans canceled under the new law, in violation of Obama’s promise that “if you like your plan, you can keep it.”
“Even though it’s a small percentage of folks who may be disadvantaged, you know, it means a lot to them,” Obama said Thursday. “And it’s scary to them. And I am sorry that they, you know, are finding themselves in this situation, based on assurances they got from me.” He also hinted that he would support efforts, possibly through legislation, to address the problem.
The statement came after more than a week of attempts by the administration to obfuscate the hardship faced by some people who were being forced under the law to pay more for new insurance plans they did not choose. On Oct. 30, during a speech in Boston, Obama claimed falsely that anyone bought insurance as an individual would “be getting a better deal” under the Affordable Care Act. “So anyone peddling the notion that insurers are canceling peoples’ plan without mentioning that almost all the insurers are encouraging people to join better plans with the same carrier and stronger benefits and stronger protections while others will be able to get better plans with new carriers through the marketplace, and that many will get new help to pay for these better plans and make them actually cheaper—if you leave that stuff out, you’re being grossly misleading, to say the least,” Obama said.
Just a few weeks earlier, Obama had appeared in the Rose Garden to announce a similarly stunning reversal in messaging, this time about the state of the website designed to allow people to sign up for the plan. “No one is more frustrated than I am,” he said on October 21 of the technical problems that had rendered the website for the Affordable Care Act inoperable. For the three weeks prior, Obama had dismissed the plague of technical issues as mere “glitches,” and complained that Republicans were “rooting for failure” when they were discussed.
Complicating matters for the administration is that they knew about both issues before the public faced them, but plowed on with the implementation—and their initial message—despite it. The warning flags were clear for the website in August, if not earlier, when security reviews found issues with the site’s coding. Obama’s “you can keep it” line and accompanying policy has been flagged as misleading by fact-checkers for years, even before it was signed into law.
The shift comes as the Jan. 1 beginning of the individual mandate nears, though individuals have until the end of March to enroll in a plan before they are assessed a fine. Behind the scenes Congressional Democrats are livid with the White House, and vulnerable incumbents are already publicly throwing barbs over Obama’s handling of the law’s implementation.