‘You Can Keep Your Doctor’: Obamacare’s Next Broken Promise?

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David Maxwell / EPA

Barack Obama’s broken promise that all Americans would be able to keep their health care plans after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act has infuriated people who took the President at his word and rattled even his staunchest supporters.

But for the President, the real political pain may only be starting. Come 2014, the rest of the country may learn that another high-profile pledge was untrue. “No matter how we reform health care,” Obama said in 2009, “we will keep this promise: if you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period.”

It’s not that simple. In order to participate in health-insurance exchanges, insurers needed to find a way to tamp down the high costs of premiums. As a result, many will narrow their networks, shrinking the range of doctors that are available to patients under their plan, experts say.

(MORE: The Bright Side of Obamacare’s Broken Promise)

“Many people are going to find out that the second part of the promise — that if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor — just wasn’t true,” says Gail Wilensky, who directed the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs under President George H.W. Bush. Factcheck.org labeled the promise “misleading,” noting that while the law doesn’t contain provisions designed to force people to pick new doctors, a switch may be inevitable for some. “The President simply can’t make this promise to anyone,” the site wrote.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

It’s unclear why the President made the promise about keeping your doctor, which he trumpeted as he traveled the country pitching health care reform, and then repeated after the law was enacted. Wilensky says Obama’s health care advisers, who unlike the President are experts in the field, must have known that some people would need to change doctors. “This is not magic stuff,” she says. The Administration stopped advertising the doctor pledge shortly after the law slipped through Congress by a hairbreadth, though the claim remains on the White House website.

“People better understand that there’s a second shoe to drop,” says Wilensky. Obama is “going to have to deal with that,” she says, “because he has more bad stuff ahead of him.”

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