“Read my lips: No new taxes.”
It’s hard to think of a campaign promise more famously made and then subsequently broken than this catchphrase from George H.W. Bush’s 1988 acceptance speech.
Bill Clinton’s pledge not to raise taxes on the middle class wasn’t so pithily stated; Herbert Hoover never really promised a chicken in every pot (that was the Republican National Committee’s brainchild).
Barack Obama’s solemn pre-Obamacare vow about health insurance may give “read my lips” a run for its money. “If you like your health care plan,” Obama said back in 2009, “you will be able to keep your health care plan.”
In fact, this statement was repeated more frequently, with subtle variations, than “read my lips” ever was. Here is Obama after the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act in 2012:”If you’re one of the more than 250 million Americans who already have health insurance, you will keep your health insurance.”
“This law will only make it more secure and more affordable,” he added. A political fact-checking website helpfully rated this claim “Half true.”
But for millions of Americans, the promise isn’t even half true. It’s completely false and the Obama administration knew it.
Sources told NBC News that between 50 and 75 percent of the 14 million Americans who already purchase health insurance on the individual market will receive cancellation letters because their existing coverage doesn’t comply with Obamacare’s regulations.
Health policy expert Robert Laszewski predicts that actual number will reached 80 percent. What’s more, this wasn’t some secret. That’s why the law had to grandfather in health plans in effect as of March 23, 2010.
“But if an insurer or employer makes significant changes to a plan’s benefits or how much members pay through premiums, copays or deductibles, then the plan loses that status,” reports Kaiser Health News.
Regulators knew three years ago that turnover in the individual market would cause somewhere between 40 and 67 percent of those customers to change their plans, while “the percentage of individual market policies losing grandfather status in a given year exceeds the 40 to 67 percent range.”
“What the president said and what everybody said all along is that there are going to be changes brought about by the Affordable Care Act to create minimum standards of coverage, minimum services that every insurance plan has to provide,” White House spokesman Jay Carney finally conceded. “So it’s true that there are existing healthcare plans on the individual market that don’t meet those minimum standards and therefore do not qualify for the Affordable Care Act.”
But is the current state of affairs really what “the president said and what everybody said all along?”
In 2010, the White House published a blog post titled, “Yes, you can keep your health plan.” (Presumably,’yes Virginia, there’s a Santa Claus’ was already copyrighted.)
“A key point to remember is that while the Act makes many changes to the individual market, it specifically allows those who want to keep their current insurance to do so,” Stephanie Cutter wrote. “Most of the Act’s protections apply only to new policies, allowing people to stick with their current plan if they prefer.”
Cutter acknowledged “a few protections apply to all plans, both new and old,” before concluding, “The bottom line is that the Act allows people to keep the insurance they have, while also providing more and better options for all.”
NBC News found a 62-year-old North Carolina man who was happy with his current coverage, only to receive a letter saying it was canceled. The next best plan he has found on the Obamacare exchanges increases his premiums by 415 percent.
A Michigan retiree found that his old plan was being canceled. The replacement he was offered raised his deductible from $0 to $2,500. He was given just 17 days to decide if that was okay.
That doesn’t sound like what Cutter, then speaking for the Obama administration, promised. Perhaps someone will go on “Crossfire” and ask her about this.
A question-and-answer section elsewhere on the White House website makes similar promises. Question: “Will my premiums/costs go up because of health reform?” Answer: “No, According to the independent and non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, people who get coverage through their employer today will likely see lower premiums.
Question: “Will the government take my choice of doctor away?” Answer: “No. Nothing about the President’s proposal will interfere with the choice of doctors you have today.”
Except that people actually are losing their doctors. So an Obama Health and Human Services official revised this claim downward: “Depending on the plan you choose in the marketplace, you may be able to keep your current doctor.”
Incidentally, every page of the aforementioned White House Q&A is headlined, “Keep your doctor and plan if you like it, but your plan will be strengthened and you’ll be protected from insurance company abuses.”
The plain fact is that individuals making just $46,000 a year and families of four earning $94,000 are going to pay more for health insurance as premiums double and triple while they don’t qualify for any of the subsidies under Obamacare. These people aren’t rich. Democrats wouldn’t even openly campaign on raising their taxes.
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat notes “the subsidy cut-off creates a chasm between winners and losers right in the middle of the middle class.”
It may be uncharitable to suggest that Obama was lying when he promised that people could keep their insurance plans, their doctors and their 40-hour work weeks, unless they were going to be replaced with a better deal.
Perhaps there is some alternate universe where Obamacare would have delivered on these promises. If you are ever there, please say hello to George Bush’s lips, Bill Clinton’s refusal to have sexual relations with that woman and Iraq’s vintage 2003 weapons of mass destruction.
W. James Antle III is the editor of The Daily Caller News Foundation and author of the recently released book “Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?“ Follow him on Twitter.