Former President Bill Clinton said in an interview published Tuesday that President Barack Obama should make sure Americans can keep their existing health plans, even if that means tweaking the Affordable Care Act.
"I personally believe, even if it takes a change to the law, the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they got," Clinton told the site OZY in the interview.
House Energy and Commerce Chairman Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) has introduced a bill that the House will vote on later this week. It would "grandfather" in all health insurance plans that existed as of Jan. 1, 2013, not March 23, 2010, meaning that insurers could continue to offer a number of plans that they have been forced to cancel under the Affordable Care Act.
Clinton preceded his comments by telling the story of a man he met last week, who he said doesn't qualify for subsidies because he makes more than 400% above the federal poverty level. He has a wife and two children, and Clinton said his policy was canceled and replaced by one that doubled his premium.
"They are the ones who heard the promise, 'If you like what you've got, you can keep it,'" Clinton said.
Clinton started his own presidency by trying to overhaul the American health care system, but his proposal was undone by complaints that it would change too many Americans' health insurance situations and perhaps force some people to change doctors. The Clinton experience may have driven Obama's choice to repeatedly reassure Americans that, "If you like your health plan, you can keep it," even though it was clear to policy wonks on both sides of the debate that his promise would prove false for many.
C ustomers in the individual insurance market are finding they cannot keep their current policies if they have changed since the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010 and don't meet certain minimum requirements of the law. Insurers are even canceling some plans that they are legally entitled to continue offering because the law changes the economics of doing so.
Though effects are now mostly limited to the individual market — where about 5% of Americans get insurance — other provisions of the law will affect coverage in the much larger group insurance market. A "Cadillac Tax" on high-cost employer provided plans, starting in 2018, will encourage some employers to offer less comprehensive insurance than they do today.
Last week in an interview with NBC's Chuck Todd, Obama personally apologized to people " finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me."
Clinton's comments come at a time when the Obama administration is facing round-the-clock scrutiny over the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, which has been mired by a dysfunctional website and low enrollment numbers.
In his interview with OZY, Clinton was generally supportive of the law despite its disastrous rollout. He pointed to the ugly rollout of Medicare Part D in 2006.
The White House responded to Clinton's comments Tuesday afternoon by noting that he was mostly supportive of the law. White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that Obama agrees with Clinton's assessment of a need for fixes.
But he said " the big lesson is that we're better off with this law than without it."
Conservatives and Republicans have already seized on Clinton's comments, saying that it validates the need to pass the House's bill and speculating whether Clinton's comments are meant to distance Hillary Clinton and her 2016 presidential prospects from the health law rollout's problems.
House Speaker John Boehner seized on the comments.
“I applaud President Clinton for joining the bipartisan call for President Obama to keep his promise to the American people," he said in a statement.
"These comments signify a growing recognition that Americans were misled when they were promised that they could keep their coverage under President Obama’s health care law. The entire health care law is a train wreck that needs to go. ... President Clinton understood that governing in a divided Washington requires a focus on common ground, and I hope President Obama will follow the former president’s lead."
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