Headlines across the country declared that President Obama apologized to Americans who were losing their medical insurance due to changes made by his signature health care reform law. But Obama didn’t actually apologize. Instead, he tried to buy time.
Over a period of five years, Obama infamously and repeatedly promised Americans that those who liked their health insurance could keep it under his health care program. But he’s been under fire in recent weeks as millions of Americans have received cancellation notices because their policies don’t meet the law’s new requirements. Prompted to apologize by NBC’s Chuck Todd in a Nov. 7 interview, essentially all Obama could muster up was, “I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me.”
During the same interview, Obama said people who are losing insurance had “subpar plans” — even though the same Americans who are losing their insurance are upset precisely because they liked their plans. In many cases, these people will have to choose among more expensive plans with higher deductibles and fewer alternatives among hospitals and doctors.
Obama also said in a dismissive tone that the cancellations only affected a “small percentage” of Americans. But the Associated Press tally of current cancellations — at least 3.5 million people — is greater than the population of Chicago. Obama said he told his aides to find a fix for the problems for this group of Americans, but given that insurers have made business decisions based on regulations that have been on the books for more than three years, it’s hard to see how that will happen apart from major changes to the law.
Ever since the plagued launch of Obamacare’s insurance exchanges on Oct. 1, the administration has been on the defensive, hoping that it could buy time to get the website problems fixed. But despite the much promoted “tech surge” of experts brought in to fix problems, all indications are that they are a long way from being rectified.
Note that administration officials sound faintly wobbly about having the web site fixed by the end of November. “We’re not where we need to be,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told the Senate Finance Committee on Nov. 6. “It’s a pretty aggressive schedule to get to the entire punch list by the end of November."
Also on Nov. 6, a blog post on the HHS website said, “We are seeing slowness in the marketplace application and some users are having difficulties with log-ins.” A post the next day said the system was “stable” but remained slow and that the tech team had “experienced new stresses on the system further downstream in the application than we have previously experienced, revealing new capacity issues.”
Then on Nov. 8, Jeff Zients, the former acting director of the Office of Management and Budget who was brought in to oversee the fixes, said the website was still "a long way from where it needs to be." How long till the next “apology?”