Commentary Magazine


Yet Another Broken ObamaCare Promise

Part of the panic from Democrats at the ObamaCare rollout is that each day brings new, somehow unexpected disasters from the reform law. (I say “somehow” because conservatives warned of all this, but the left strictly enforced its own epistemic closure during the ObamaCare debates and Democratic lawmakers famously wanted to pass the bill so they could find out what was in it, rather than read it before voting.)

At yesterday’s press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney gave an indication of the next of ObamaCare’s false promises to be exposed. Along with his now-infamous promise that if you like your health-care plan you can keep it, President Obama also promised that “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period.” This is also not true, as Time explains:

In order to participate in health-insurance exchanges, insurers needed to find a way to tamp down the high costs of premiums. As a result, many will narrow their networks, shrinking the range of doctors that are available to patients under their plan, experts say.

At Hot Air, Mary Katherine Ham pulls the video of Carney trying to walk back this promise and makes an important point:

You think people are mad about losing their plans? Even losing one’s doctor is not always the hugest deal to a healthy adult. You don’t see them that often anyway. But this thing really starts to spiral out of control when people’s children start losing their doctors. Pediatricians are dang near family members to many parents. Parents who vote.

Indeed, parents put a lot of effort into finding the right pediatrician for their kids and a lot of trust in them when they decide on a doctor. Kids, in turn, don’t tend to trust just anybody, and losing their pediatrician means losing the institutional knowledge and intuition that doctor built up over the years treating children who are not always the best communicators (especially younger children, obviously). Parents will be more than inconvenienced–this is, in many cases, a disruption that they will understandably see as an unnecessary risk to their child’s wellbeing.

So how would the White House weasel out of this one? Here’s the response Carney gives to ABC’s Jon Karl:

Q    Jay, a couple quick things.  First, the President, as you know, many times said some variation of this — we will keep this promise to the American people.  If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period.  Is that promise still operative?

MR. CARNEY:  Jon, the President made clear throughout the effort to pass the Affordable Care Act and throughout the period that continues to this day in which Republicans have sought to repeal it that the vast majority of the American people, those who have insurance through their employers, who have insurance through Medicare or Medicaid, will not see a change, and that includes to how their plans allow them to get access to different doctors.

The reality of the insurance system that we’ve seen over the years is that these plans change all the time.  So there are limits — if you’re building on the private-insurance-based system that the President is doing, using the model from a Republican governor of Massachusetts, as he did — this is not a government-run insurance program — what is the case is that, if you’re purchasing insurance in the marketplace, you have a variety of options available to you from less expensive plans to more expensive, more comprehensive plans. 

And as is the case in insurance markets and networks all over the country, the more comprehensive plans tend to have broader networks.  So if you are looking for — if you want coverage from your doctor, a doctor that you’ve seen in the past and want that, you can look and see if there’s a plan in which that doctor participates.  And that reflects the way that the private insurance system has long worked.

In other words, no. The promise is not “still operative.” Karl wasn’t fooled. He followed up: “So is this another promise where he needs to kind of modify? Because that’s not what he said.”

Carney responded again with a somewhat revealing answer. And again, the answer seemed to be no. After telling Karl that “everybody understands how the insurance system works” and that the private insurance market is subject to “an enormous amount of churn,” Carney offered a response that included three very telling sentences.

First: “If your insurance was canceled regularly, if it was changed regularly, that is part of a system that the ACA was designed in part to improve.” Not prevent–just improve. If your insurance was canceled regularly and now it’s canceled less frequently, you’re welcome!

Second: “And what is the case is that in state after state after state, individuals have more options than they’ve ever had before.” Which individuals? And this is a dodge: if a person loses the doctor they’re happy with, what kind of consolation prize is it that their benevolent state has permitted them to choose a different doctor?

Third: “They have different levels of coverage to choose from, and depending on the level of coverage they choose from, they’ll likely have a broader network of doctors and specialists to be able to see.” There’s a key word there: likely, which follows soon after an awfully conspicuous depending. For all Carney’s attempts to cloud the issue, he could not have been clearer: yes, the president’s promise about keeping your doctor–“period”–was false.

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