This is a precarious moment for President Barack Obama. His poll ratings have slipped, and health-care reform, his most significant accomplishment, is in danger. In a White House news conference Thursday, Obama forthrightly accepted blame and offered two ways to repair the damage. One is crucial. The other is misguided.
“We fumbled the rollout of this health-care law,” the president declared. He admitted that he was wrong to have pledged that those who liked their insurance plans could keep them, and he took responsibility for misleading representations that other Democrats made based on his promises. He rightly said he would have to earn confidence back by making the Affordable Care Act work.
That will require fixing the website. HealthCare.gov was supposed to be the public’s primary interface with a reorganized insurance industry, where millions would shop for coverage, view bottom-line prices and enroll in plans easily. Phone and mail-in enrollment options can augment but cannot substitute. Reform depends on healthy people signing up and paying into the system. As the president signaled, the administration must get the site right.
Obama’s big announcement Thursday, though, was a “fix” to the Affordable Care Act meant to redeem his promise that “if you like your health-care plan, you can keep it.” Unfortunately, it was his promise that was wrong, not the design of the law. At best, his proposed fix will have little impact except to let him shift the blame; at worst, it will undermine reform.
The president offered relief to the sliver of Americans whose policies were canceled in recent weeks. Though their plans did not comply with the quality standards properly set by the law, and though many of them will be due generous subsidies to buy better plans next year, some of the affected people were going to have to pay more in the new system. Anger and confusion over these cancellations became a problem for the Democrats. So Obama said the government will allow insurance companies to offer non-compliant plans to current customers for another year.