Dickerson: Obamacare makes Republicans look like sages
Posted: November 2, 2013 - 8:17pm
During the public debate over health care, no matter how tightly you may have shut your door, there was one piece of information it was impossible to avoid: the president’s promise that if you liked your doctor and your health care plan you would be able to keep both.
So it was a surprise to many people to get a letter like the one Independence Blue Cross sent its customers weeks ago.
It said that as a result of the Affordable Care Act, “your current plan will be discontinued effective January 1, 2014, and you will need to select a new plan by the end of December to avoid any interruption in coverage.”
That wasn’t what the president promised.
But wait, the president can explain. It’s not what we think.
People won’t have the same insurance — they will have better insurance, administration officials assure.
That’s not the way some of the people receiving these letters see it.
When healthcare.gov launched with the fanfare and success of a North Korean missile, the president insisted Obamacare was more than a website.
The website might be a mess, he told us, but the underlying product was very sound.
The president’s original promise was so ironclad and repeated so often that any explanation now sounds like dissembling.
During the debate over the law, the president had a difficult balancing act.
He had to argue that the status quo in health care was a disaster while at the same time not threatening the status quo. There was a lot of pressure on the president to send the message that nothing would change.
In the summer of 2009, the president began to tailor his message.
If you liked what you had, it wasn’t going to change. That was a broad and simplified claim and the press called him on it.
The president could never make that promise. He didn’t have the power to keep insurance companies from changing their policies in response to the law.
Nevertheless, the president continued to make the claim in the desperate attempt to sell his unpopular plan.
The president’s message about his signature law has always been: It gets better, I promise.
That was always an uphill battle. “Trust me” claims clash with people’s mistrust of politicians and government programs.
Insurance companies wouldn’t have had to change plans if it hadn’t been for Obamacare.
It’s not just that Republicans benefit when the president’s signature legislation falters.
This debate over his initial claim lends credibility to their longstanding opposition to the law.
A key critique of the Republican party’s recent attempt to defund Obamacare was that it was a strategy born of limited vision. They couldn’t see that it was doomed to fail spectacularly.
Four years ago, with the Affordable Care Act, they saw this moment coming.
John Dickerson is Slate’s chief political correspondent. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org