With former President Bill Clinton now urging President Obama to find a way to make good on his promise that Americans could keep their current health insurance plans if they like them, it may only be a matter of time before the administration is forced to make wholesale changes in the beleaguered Affordable Care Act to placate restless Democrats fearful of a growing voter backlash.
In an interview on OZY.com released on Tuesday, Clinton said, “I personally believe, even if it takes a change in the law, the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they got.”
Reports of millions of cancelations of policies from coast to coast have proven to be a public relations fiasco for the administration and prompted Obama to apologize last week for misleading the public about how the new health care law would work.
The former president -- who became known as Obama’s “Explainer in Chief” during the 2012 Democratic national convention and who has frequently defended the Affordable Care Act – also described his encounter with a young man he met recently whose policy was canceled and replaced with one that doubled his monthly premium.
The House is scheduled to vote late this week on a Republican measure that would urge insurance companies to preserve or reinstate health insurance plans in the individual market that were canceled because they don’t meet the new Obamacare standards or weren’t exempted or “grandfathered in” from the new law.
"What Americans want to hear is that the President is going to keep his promise,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said last week. “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."
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney slammed the House bill, drafted by Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan that would give insurance companies the option of continuing all existing health plans for one year, regardless of whether they meet ten key standards of the Affordable Care Act. Carney said passing the bill would be tantamount to “throwing the baby out with the bath water.”
However, just minutes earlier, the second highest-ranking House Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, said he was open to supporting the bill.
Hoyer’s openness to Upton’s bill could signal a shift in the House, where Democrats are facing a difficult position--either allowing millions of people to lose their insurance coverage or enabling them to stay on their current plans which undermines a major component of the new healthcare reform law.
A similar bill, sponsored by Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA) would actually require insurance companies to continue offering existing plans.
Carney pooh-poohed any suggestion of a fundamental disagreement between Clinton and Obama and told reporters that the former president was still Obamacare’s “explainer-in-chief.” However, Carney dodged the question of whether the two men share views on possible solutions.
Carney would not commit to any particular legislative option or even say that legislation of some sort was necessary. “We haven’t announced any potential fixes or moves that we might be able to make to address this problem,” the press secretary said.
Yet because of technical problems with Healthcare.gov, the president may have no choice but to extend the deadline for signing up for insurance beyond the end of March and postpone by a year the “individual mandate” that imposes a financial penalty on uninsured people who fail to buy a policy under Obamacare.
“He’s in the danger zone on both of those points,” said William Galston, a former domestic policy adviser to Clinton and now a scholar at the Brookings Institution.
“Whether he’ll decide to tough it out or make some tough decisions about postponements, I don’t know.”
Citing a recent Quinnipiac poll that puts Obama’s approval at a low of 39 percent, Galston said that Obama has suffered a devastating loss of public confidence and trust since the troubled launch of the Obamacare website Oct.1. “This is arguably the low point of the Obama presidency,” he said in an interview.
- The Fiscal Times’ Brianna Ehley contributed to this report
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