Marc Caputo: After Obama’s ‘Lie of the Year’ more spin

12/15/2013 2:13 PM

12/15/2013 5:34 PM

President Obama lied. Millions of health-insurance policies will die.

And he, his administration and Democrats are paying dearly for it.

On Thursday, Obama was awarded PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year” for repeatedly saying “if you like your insurance plan, you can keep it” under the Affordable Care Act.

The administration refuses to fully fess up to the lie.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius refused to do it Friday during a Miami trip touting Obamacare. And Obama has tried to rewrite history.

“What we said was, you can keep it if it hasn’t changed since the law passed,” Obama said Nov. 4.

PolitiFact rated that statement Pants-on-Fire false.

So the president lied. Then he told a whopper about his lie. What’s to say the other assurances about the Affordable Care Act are true?

The day after Obama won the Lie of the Year, Sebelius hosted her made-for-TV chat with Obamacare recipients and advocates at the downtown Miami-Dade Main Library.

Ducking two questions about the lie, Sebelius talked up the act’s improved sign-up website and the success stories of prospective enrollees who are getting good coverage for little money.

“I hope you all will become part of the effort to spread the word,’’ she said.

But this administration’s word isn’t so trustworthy.

First came the troubles with the sign-up site for individual-market plans. Launched Oct. 1, it barely worked. But Obama and Sebelius initially suggested it wasn’t such a big deal.

Nothin’ to see here, folks.

Then came millions of individual-plan cancellation notices — about 300,000 from Florida Blue alone. The administration tried to blame insurers, which could be true in some cases but, now we know, certainly not all.

By November, 51 percent of Florida voters said the president isn’t trustworthy and honest, compared to 44 percent who say he is, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.

That was a shift away from the president of 12 percentage points in about a year.

The Florida poll also indicated that Obama’s tanking approval ratings are hurting Democrats, namely Charlie Crist, who backs the Affordable Care Act, in his race against Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who launched his political career bashing Obamacare.

Nationally, the Quinnipiac poll numbers were nearly identical to Florida’s when it came to the president’s honesty.

A Pew Research/USA Today poll earlier this month found the percentage of people viewing Obama as “not trustworthy” rose 15 points in a year, to 45 percent.

When asked Friday about the Lie of the Year, which revolves around her agency, Sebelius started explaining.

“I think that the statement about keeping your plan was one that is applicable to the vast majority of Americans in the health-insurance market,” Sebelius said, tacitly restating the position that the individual health-insurance market is relatively small, covering about 5 percent of the insured nationwide (about 900,000 people in Florida).

But is this statement about the “vast majority” really true?

Not according to Christopher Conover, a Duke University researcher and scholar with the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

When the “vast majority” line was stated by an Obama advisor, Conover wrote an October analysis in Forbes headlined: “No, David Axelrod, the ‘vast majority of people in this country’ are not keeping their health insurance.”

Conover pointed out that many insurance plans, not just those in the individual market, are “grandfathered” now, but they might lose that status if they change too much and then have to comply with some Obamacare mandates.

The Obama administration also forecast changes beyond the individual market.

From a once-obscure June 2010 administration report published in the federal register: “the Departments’ mid-range estimate is that 66 percent of small employer plans and 45 percent of large employer plans will relinquish their grandfather status by the end of 2013. The low-end estimates are for 49 percent and 34 percent of small and large employer plans, respectively, to have relinquished grandfather status, and the high-end estimates are 80 percent and 64 percent, respectively.”

So clearly, many plans are expected to lose their grandfather status.

Republicans and conservative commentators like Fox’s Sean Hannity, whose serial dishonesty would break a polygraph needle, took it a step further and said tens of millions will “lose their healthcare.”

They won’t. Obamacare guarantees coverage. PolitiFact awarded Hannity a “False” ruling for this deception.

Also, some experts say many of the current large-employer grandfathered plans are close to complying with the Affordable Care Act anyway. If they lose their grandfather status, people might not even notice. It could be a distinction without a practical difference.

But others just might see a change by way of higher premiums. And while many will get more coverage, many won’t get Obamacare subsidies. And there are those who choose plans based on what they can afford.

On balance, we still don’t know if Obamacare is an overall success or failure when it comes to health policy or partisan politics. It’s still too early. There are anecdotes on both sides.

Yes, the website is improving. But that’s a low bar.

It was impossible to get into any of the distinctions about the scope of grandfathered plans with Sebelius on Friday. Her response to the Lie of the Year question rambled on for 250 words and noted, among other things, that Florida insurers and others halted their policy cancellations for a year at the president’s request.

She tried to look away before I asked a follow-up.

Question: “So you don’t think it was a lie then?”

Sebelius: “I..” She looked to another reporter asking a friendlier question. “Yes?”

Question: “So you’re not going to answer that?”

Sebelius refused comment.

That’s an improvement. At least she didn’t lie like her boss. And then lie about lying about it.

About Marc Caputo

Marc Caputo

@MarcACaputo

Marc Caputo is the Miami Herald's political writer. Hailing from Key West, he graduated from the University of Miami.

Join the Discussion

Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Terms of Service