Obamacare — the Grandfather of All Explanations of Why Obama Didn’t Lie


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Obamacare meme -- part-time

In yesterday’s LA Times, David Lazarus assesses the question of whether President Obama deliberately misled the public about their ability to keep their own current health insurance.  The verdict: pretty much “no”  – and certainly not with intent to deceive.  In talking to the public, he didn’t always repeat the qualifications that had been built into the bill at the time that the legislation was passed, but that’s a far cry from lying.

If you want to see Presidential lying, I have a long list of lies from the Bush Jr. administration lying around here somewhere – starting with the justification for Iraq War.  That was a consequential lie — or series of lies, actually.  And if you want to see a recent list of lies, I’m sure I can dig up a long list of accusations leveled by Darrell Issa and others — including some in these very electronic pages.  (Fast and Furious and Benghazi, anyone?)

Here are some of the highlights from Lazarus’s article:

(1) “You can keep it if it’s up to code.”

This [question of whether Obama lied] wouldn’t even be an issue if Obama had qualified his remarks simply by adding that you’d be able to keep your insurance as long as it meets minimum standards for coverage, which is a big part of what Obamacare is all about.

I’ve tried explaining this with a fish analogy before; this time, let’s try chicken.  Let’s say that you enjoy having a delicious chicken sandwich from GaltCo every once in a while.  However, upon investigation it turns out that:

  1. The “chicken” sandwich is actually made from seagulls
  2. The seagulls are found rotting on the beach, but then are bleached and boiled
  3. Maggots in the seagulls decaying bodies are not removed prior to processing.
  4. The seagull sandwiches are made by slave labor
  5. The seagull sandwiches contain appreciable amounts of both heroin and cocaine.
  6. About 3% of the people eating a seagull sandwich in a given year get sick and die from it
  7. About 6% of the people eating a seagull sandwich get sick, don’t die, and then are forced to sign waivers of liability by armed thugs dispatched by GaltCo.
  8. New regulations will make sale of these “chicken sandwiches” illegal (except as provided below.)

Now, if Obama says that, while he’s reforming the food safety laws, “you can keep your chicken sandwich,” he’s pretty clearly saying that you can keep your “chicken sandwich” if it’s otherwise up to code.  Those seagull sandwiches aren’t.  Part of the law was designed to keep people from selling seagull sandwiches.  So, we’re very sorry if you thought that it was just a regular chicken sandwich made from chicken, not by slave labor, not containing illegal drugs, and not a serious risk to public health — but now you know, and you should understand why you can no longer buy them.

Lazarus quotes another expert in the article to this effect:

Shana Alex Lavarreda, director of health insurance studies at UCLA’s Center for Health Policy Research, said Obama “underestimated the fact that there was a market for bad plans.”

In other words, the shapers of the Affordable Care Act assumed that people would jump at the chance to receive better coverage at a better price.

They didn’t factor in the idea that some people, because of either ignorance or stubbornness, would remain loyal to their old plans, regardless of how much they could improve things under Obamacare

I believe that the government should try to serve the people as best it can.  But at some point, if you run into an immovable wall of ignorance and stubbornness, one is entitled to stop reminding people that the reforms to regulations were widely reported on at the time that the law was passed.

(2) “You can keep your plan — so long as your insurer wants to keep offering it

Miriam Laugesen, an assistant professor of health policy at Columbia University, said there are two things many people might not understand.

First, she said, they might not realize how shoddy some older plans are, providing minimal coverage at relatively high prices.

Second, Laugesen said, many people might not realize that subsidies available under Obamacare will ultimately allow people to obtain more comprehensive coverage at a lower cost than they might be paying under their current plans.

“Obama was actually telling the truth,” she said. “The law says you can grandfather in older policies. But that would only be if the plans met the conditions of the law and remained the same.”

In other words: if you’re insurer is offering a plan, and it’s up to code, nothing in the law keeps them from continuing to offer it.  If they choose not to offer it, that’s their decision – just as it was before Obamacare was passed.  If they decide to jack up the premiums, that’s also their decision – just as it was before Obamacare was passed.  So stop blaming Obama for what your insurer is doing.

Lazarus concludes:

So, yes, the president wasn’t as clear as he should have been. You can call him a liar if you want. But I see a clear difference between not offering the full story and making stuff up out of whole cloth.

I mean, it’s not as if he publicly insisted that so-called death panels would decide people’s medical treatment, or that most small businesses would be crippled by the reform law or that the government is taking over the entire healthcare system.

That’s what his critics have been saying.

Those are some serious lies.

I expect that some commenters will have a pithy comeback like “no, Obama lied, period.”  They’re not offering the full story — to give them the benefit of the doubt.


About Greg Diamond

Worker's rights attorney now moving into "good governance" litigation. North Vice Chair of Democratic Party of Orange County and occasional candidate. Proud to be prolix. Unless otherwise specifically stated, his writings never speak for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level. He tries to either suppress or openly acknowledge his partisan, issue, ideological, and "good government" biases in most of his writing here. If you have a question about any particular writing, just ask him about it and (unless you are an pseudonymous troll) he will probably answer you at painful length. He lives in Brea but generally doesn't blog about it. A family member works as a campaign treasurer for Wendy Gabriella in AD-73; he doesn't directly profit from that relatively small compensation and it doesn't affect his coverage. He does advise some campaigns informally and without compensation, although in 2014 he may receive some compensation for campaign consulting and fundraising for the campaign of Jorge Lopez for Orange County Assessor.