President Barack Obama finally stopped spinning and came clean. On Thursday, he admitted he’d misled people with his assurances that “if you like your health plan, you can keep it. Period.” He said he was sorry, and that his administration is looking into ways to help the folks who got bushwhacked.
It’s a good thing. Obama will spend the rest of his presidency fighting for the Affordable Care Act. He couldn’t effectively argue for its benefits if he kept defending what was so obviously a false promise.
Unlike the health reform website, which is a convoluted disaster, Obama’s use of the “keep it” promise long after he had to know better was a simple, stupid lapse of judgment. It reminded us of George W. Bush’s claim that he’d always said the Iraq War would be long and difficult, even though countless videos showed him saying the opposite beforehand. When people become president, do they forget about the Internet?
In failing to learn this lesson, Obama has deepened the worries of Americans who already doubt his ability to deliver on reform because of the Web cataclysm.
Remarkably, support for the law remains steady in most polls, but it is not strong. People need to believe in it to sign up in sufficient numbers to make it work. Obama’s mistake, lie — whatever you want to call it — is being used to attack the substance of reform, but the 5 percent of Americans who are individual policyholders are a minuscule part of the overall program. And many of them will not pay more under the new system.
If Obama had said up front that several million individually insured Americans might need to change policies, we still would have supported reform. There was no way to improve our catastrophically unfair system without disrupting some lives.
And some who now need to buy different policies never really had insurance to begin with. Bare-bones policies left them a car accident or cancer diagnosis away from financial ruin — at which point the burden of paying for care falls on the public. The Affordable Care Act, like other consumer protections, sets standards so people have real coverage.
Obama’s apology doesn’t end the debate over his reforms, but it will help refocus it on real issues. Like that website — which had better work soon, or nothing else will matter.
San Jose Mercury News