President Obama Wins Politifact’s “Lie Of The Year” Award
A dubious distinction.
In a decision that is sure to set off a political firestorm where your reaction depending on which side of the political aisle you happen to come from, President Obama has won Politifact’s “Lie Of The Year” Award for his statement regarding the ability of average Americans to keep their health insurance under the Affordable Care Act:
It was a catchy political pitch and a chance to calm nerves about his dramatic and complicated plan to bring historic change to America’s health insurance system.
“If you like your health care plan, you can keep it,” President Barack Obama said — many times — of his landmark new law.
But the promise was impossible to keep.
So this fall, as cancellation letters were going out to approximately 4 million Americans, the public realized Obama’s breezy assurances were wrong.
Boiling down the complicated health care law to a soundbite proved treacherous, even for its promoter-in-chief. Obama and his team made matters worse, suggesting they had been misunderstood all along. The stunning political uproar led to this: a rare presidential apology.
For all of these reasons, PolitiFact has named “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it,” the Lie of the Year for 2013. Readers in a separate online poll overwhelmingly agreed with the choice.
This is the fifth time that Politifact has award a “Lie Of The Year” designation, and the fourth time in those five years that the award has concerned some element off the Affordable Care Act or the health care debate in general. (A list of previous “winner” can be found here.) In the case of this specific statement, supporters of the PPACA and President Obama will no doubt object to the fact that the lie concerns actions by third parties that, arguably, the President has no control over. However, the people at Politifact argue that their decision to pin the award on the President is correct both because of the statement itself and the botched manner in which the Administration tried to explain away the statement when confronted this year by millions of people who saw their policies being canceled:
Initially, Obama and his team didn’t budge.
First, they tried to shift blame to insurers. “FACT: Nothing in #Obamacare forces people out of their health plans,” said Valerie Jarrett, a top adviser to Obama, on Oct. 28.
PolitiFact rated her statement False. The restrictions on grandfathering were part of the law, and they were driving cancellations.
Then, they tried to change the subject. “It’s important to remember both before the ACA was ever even a gleam in anybody’s eye, let alone passed into law, that insurance companies were doing this all the time, especially in the individual market because it was lightly regulated and the incentives were so skewed,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
But what really set everyone off was when Obama tried to rewrite his slogan, telling political supporters on Nov. 4, “Now, if you have or 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.”
Pants on Fire! PolitiFact counted 37 times when he’d included no caveats, such as a high-profilespeech to the American Medical Association in 2009: “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”
Even Obama’s staunchest allies cried foul.
On Nov. 6, columnist Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune wrote that the public “was entitled to hear the unvarnished truth, not spin, from their president about what they were about to face. I don’t feel good about calling out Obama’s whopper, because I support most of his policies and programs. But in this instance, he would have to be delusional to think he was telling the truth.”
The next day, Obama apologized during a lengthy interview with NBC News’ Chuck Todd.
“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. And I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me,” he said.
As we’ve already discussed here several times, the President has taken a fairly serious hit in the polls as a result of the faulty roll out of the PPACA. More importantly, though, these polls have shown that he’s taken a fairly serious hit in the polls regarding his trustworthiness and honesty, which is one area where he had remained fairly solidly high even when other parts of his job approval and favorability were suffering. Based on follow-up interview by many of these pollsters, it quickly became apparent that the factor driving the drop in the trust that the public has in the President could be traced primarily to his previous statements about people being able to keep their insurance plans and the fact that the evidence over the past months has been quite to the contrary. Additionally, reports over the past two months have indicated that the Administration knew in the run up to the implementation of the law that there would be a significant portion of the people in the individual insurance market who would indeed lose their plans due primarily to the fact that those plans did not comply with the regulatory requirements of the PPACA and did not qualify under the “grandfathering” provisions that the PPACA supposedly provided for individual health insurance plans.
Looking back, it’s rather obvious that the whole “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan” mantra was a campaign slogan designed to ally fears that had been expressed that passage of the law would force people into the health care exchanges where they’d end up with radically different health care plans, and where they’d face the possibility that they would not be able to continue seeing their regular physician because he or she would no longer be in their health insurance network. The problem with simplistic political slogans, though, is that people tend to take them for statements of fact and, when they’re proven wrong, the person who spoke those words ends up getting in trouble. In this particular case, it was indeed President Obama who most prominently used the phrase but his words were repeated numerous times by Democratic candidates for the House and the Senate, and by surrogates on the campaign trail for the Democratic Party, in their effort to sell the PPACA and to campaign for reelection in 2012.
The arguments over whether or not this statement constitutes a “lie” and whether the award is deserved will, of course, depend upon which side of the political aisle one sits. Republicans will see it as an affirmation of claims they’ve been making about ObamaCare from the very beginning, while Democrats will likely object that Politifact is being far too literal in judging the Presidents words. Viewed about as objectively as I can, it seems fairly clear in hindsight that the Presidents words did not prove to be true. Millions of people who had individual health insurance plans that they liked, and which they had chosen as best suiting their needs, have discovered that they could not keep those plans. Other people are, according to reports, discovering that while they can find insurance on the exchanges it ends up being more expensive thanks to higher deductibles and/or it results in them not being able to keep seeing their regular physician without paying higher out-of-network fees for regular health care visits. As noted, these are things that the Administration was apparently aware would likely happen long before the October 1, 2013 implementation date for the Act. More importantly, they clearly would strike any normal person to conclude that a statement like “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan” was, when it was made, completely untrue. At the very least, then, the Administration came up with a catchy slogan but withheld crucial information that would qualify the words themselves. In that since, it would be as much a sin of omission as a sin of commission. But, to the average American, it just sounds like a lie.