Obama’s Long Road to Truth on Health Care

Mike Gonzalez /

President Obama has yet again shifted his position on the key question of whether Americans will be able to keep their private health care package if his proposals become law. The latest twist is this: many of you were going to lose private health care anyway, because it’s too expensive, but it will be your employer who drops the private choice.

This can be called progress, if we understand life to be a long process in the revelation of truth, and if by progress we mean that now one more layer has been peeled off.

Let’s recap what has transpired in just one week. Speaking to the American Medical Association on Monday, the President spoke clearly, forcefully and without caveats:

No matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.

That is as categorical as it gets. The White House transcript shows that these were big applause lines. As is customary with this President, he then went on to call anyone who dare contradict him a liar.

We were undeterred. The President of The Heritage Foundation, Ed Feulner, on Thursday issued an Open Letter in which he did dare contradict President Obama, and politely suggest that on that score, as in others, President Obama was selling his healthcare package on faulty premises.

We did so because, as we said last week—as we have said all along—depending on how the public plan is designed in Congress, millions of Americans would lose their existing coverage if a public plan is inserted. By opening the public plan to all employees and using Medicare rates, the Lewin Group, a nationally prominent econometrics firm, has said that the public plan could result in 119.1 million Americans being transitioned out of private coverage, including employer-based coverage, into a public plan.

Then on Friday, the White House began to agree, and walk the President’s claim back. Buried inside an article by The Associated Press was this gem:

White House officials suggest the president’s rhetoric shouldn’t be taken literally: What Obama really means is that government isn’t about to barge in and force people to change insurance.

The latest iteration came yesterday, from President Obama himself, who did another pivot at his press conference. Here’s what he said this time:

You know, there are polls out that show that 70 percent or 80 percent of Americans are satisfied with the health insurance that they currently have. The only problem is that premiums have been doubling every nine years, going up three times faster than wages…. Businesses are having to make very tough decisions about whether we drop coverage or we further restrict coverage.

So a small business person who wants to choose the government-run public option and drop everything else should be able to, said the President.

Then when a reporter pressed him by saying “I’m sorry, but what about keeping your promise to the American people that they won’t have to change plans?” President Obama got flustered and laid down a new marker:

Well, all right—when I say if you have your plan and you like it, and your doctor has a plan—or you have a doctor and you like your doctor, that you don’t have to change plans, what I’m saying is the government is not going to make you change plans under health reform.

It’s been a long road from “you’ll be able to keep it. Period” to “what I’m saying is the government is not going to make you change plans under health reform.” The President hasn’t quite admitted he gave an empty promise when he said “you’ll be able to keep it. Period.” But at Heritage we like progress, and well continue to report on it.