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The president's ObamaCare apology: Too little, too late?
The president was contrite in an interview with NBC's Chuck Todd, but will that change anything?
 

President Obama is getting some pretty well-deserved flak for his repeated promises that people who like their health insurance plans won't lose them when ObamaCare kicks in next year. It turns out that millions of people may have to change plans, report McClatchy's Kevin Hall and Anita Kumar, and at least some people in his administration knew that as early as 2010.

On Monday, Obama added a caveat to his "you can keep it" pledge. People who buy their own individual insurance, he acknowledged, probably can't keep plans that don't meet ObamaCare's standards and postdate the signing of the Affordable Care Act — only those plans from before March 2010 that haven't changed substantially are grandfathered in. As lots of people noted, that's a pretty big caveat.

On Thursday, Obama changed course. In an interview with NBC News' Chuck Todd, the president apologized to those people who have to switch insurance plans. (Watch above; the first 13 minutes are all about ObamaCare. You can view nearly three minutes of Obama promising that people can keep their health care plans below.) Here are a few of the ways he apologized:

I regret very much that what we intended to do — which is to make sure that everybody is moving into better plans because they want them, as opposed to because they're forced into it — that, we weren't as clear as we needed to be in terms of the changes that were taking place. And I want to do everything we can to make sure that people are finding themselves in a good position, a better position than they were before this law happened...

Even though it's a small percentage of folks who may be disadvantaged, you know, it means a lot to them. And it's scary to them. And I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me. We've got to work hard to make sure that they know we hear 'em and that we're going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this...

In good faith, we tried to write the law in such a way that people could keep their care — although we really believe that ultimately, they're going to be better off when they're buying health care through the marketplaces: They can access tax credits, and they're benefiting from more choice and competition. But obviously, we didn't do a good enough job in terms of how we crafted the law. And, you know, that's something that I regret. That's something that we're going to do everything we can to get fixed. [The Washington Post]

Obama also took responsibility for ObamaCare's shoddy rollout, defended Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and called Joe Biden one of the best vice presidents ever. But it's his contrition over the dropped insurance plans that's getting the most attention. Will it matter?

Well, it is "a moment of historical significance to hear Barack Obama apologize for screwing up," or really apologize for anything, says Tim Stanley at Britain's The Telegraph. But that's "small comfort to the millions who risk losing their existing plans."

It remains the case that a) parts of the administration understood the chaos approaching, b) the president's peculiar management style shut down the debate, c) Obama told voters something that turned out to be quite false, and d) many people may have embraced the principle of ObamaCare without realizing its potential consequences. [Telegraph]

No, Obama's apology was "exactly the right thing" for him to do, says Andrew Sullivan at The Dish. "He should have done it sooner," but he did it, and that matters.

He's right to remind us how chaotic and disruptive the market was before the ACA, and right to offer a personal apology for the political obfuscation he repeated far too long. His credibility matters. He made up some ground tonight — in his usual unflappable way.... In the long run, the current website fiasco may seem as minor in the backview mirror as it was with the Medicare D rollout. The ACA may work in the long run — both substantively and politically. [The Dish]

Actually, the interview was a little disappointing, says Lynn Sweet at the Chicago Sun-Times. Perhaps the most remarkable part of the president's apology was his apparent "inability to sincerely express empathy."

I know he tried, but is that the best he's got? Given that people are freaking out when they get a notice their policies are being dropped — a horrible, frustrating life experience.... What the administration never appreciated was that people get new plans all the time — but they hardly noticed because it seemed more like an automatic renewal, albeit often with higher costs. A cancellation letter gets your attention. [Chicago Sun-Times]

Obama tried to put the cancellation notices in perspective, repeatedly noting that five percent number — those who bought individual policies after March 2010, Sweet notes. "But if you are one of the five percent and are angry and feel duped — I don't blame you. You are entitled to your story."

Courtesy of the Washington Free Beacon, here's a highlight reel of Obama promising three dozen times that people can keep their health care plans in the age of ObamaCare:

 
Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian, and plays in an Austin rock band.

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