Pres. Obama personally apologizes for Americans losing health coverage
By Chuck Todd, NBC News
WASHINGTON (NBC) - President Obama said Thursday that he is "sorry" that some Americans are losing their current health insurance plans as a result of the Affordable Care Act, despite his promise that no one would have to give up a health plan they liked.
"I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me," he told NBC News in an exclusive interview at the White House.
"We've got to work hard to make sure that they know we hear them and we are going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this."
Obama's comments come 10 days after NBC News' Lisa Myers reported that the administration has known since the summer of 2010 that millions of Americans could lose their insurance under the law.
Obama has made repeated assurances that "if you like your health plan, you will be able to keep your health plan" with Obamacare.
Consumers who buy insurance on their own — about five percent of the population — are at risk of being forced off their current policies because their plans have changed and don't meet the new standards of the Affordable Care Act.
Obama's statement has been called into question as Americans have begun to receive cancellation notices, effectively forcing them to enroll in a new plan either with their current insurer or through the government exchanges, in many cases at a higher rate.
Guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services dating back to July 2010 estimated that "40 to 67 percent" of the 14 million consumers in that marketplace could lose their policies due to turnover in the individual insurance market, NBC News found.
That part of the law does not impact the 80 percent of Americans who receive their health insurance through employers or through Medicare or Medicaid.
"Obviously we didn't do a good enough job in terms of how we crafted the law," Obama said in the interview Thursday. "And, you know, that's something I regret. That's something we're gonna do everything we can to get fixed ... We're looking at a range of options."
After the initial NBC News report, the administration insisted that the president did not mislead Americans, arguing that the law could not have accounted for insurers altering existing plans after passage of the law.
Yet earlier this week, Obama tweaked his promise, acknowledging that plans that have been substantially changed since passage of the law would no longer be "grandfathered" into acceptance under the ACA.
"If you had one of these plans before the Affordable Care Act came into law and you really liked that plan, what we said was you can keep it if it hasn't changed since the law passed," he said.
On Thursday, Obama said many of the people being canceled could get better cheaper plans in the marketplaces, but he acknowledged glitches are preventing that.
"The majority of folks will end up being better off," he said. "Of course, because the website not working right they may not know it."
White House spokesman Jay Carney has also argued those being forced to find new plans will receive better quality of coverage.
"What we're talking about here is the five percent in the country who currently purchase insurance on the individual market," Carney said last month. "And that market has been like the Wild West. It has been under-regulated, it is the place where Americans have most keenly felt the challenges posed by the insurance system in this country."
Health and Human Services Secretary Katherine Sebelius acknowledged in a hearing Wednesday that a "majority" of those in the individual market would end up with plans with better coverage while "others will have to choose" an ACA-compliant policy.
In Thursday's interview, Obama defended his health secretary and argued that the website bugs aren't necessarily her fault: "Kathleen Sebelius doesn't write code. She wasn't our IT person."
Frustration among even some Democrats supportive of the Obamacare bill boiled over this week as coverage of the dropped plans continued.
Sen. Max Baucus, the Democratic Senate Finance Committee Chairman and a key author of the bill, called the problems "unacceptable" during a hearing at which Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was grilled on Wednesday.
"It has been disappointing to see members of the administration say they didn't see the problems coming," he said.
House Speaker John Boehner responded to the president's comments Thursday, saying, "an apology is certainly in order, but what Americans want to hear is that the president is going to keep his promise."
Pointing to a scheduled House vote next week on a measure that would allow insurance companies to continue policies that don't meet the ACA's standards, Boehner added, "if the president is sincerely sorry that he misled the American people, the very least he can do is support this bipartisan effort. Otherwise, this apology doesn't amount to anything."
NBC News' Carrie Dann contributed to this report.