GUEST COMMENTARY: To pass health plan, Obama, Democrats kept mum about its downsides

Monday, November 25, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST

The journalist Jonathan Cohn, an ardent supporter of Obamacare, recently wrote in The New Republic that problems with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act should be "an opportunity to have a serious conversation about the law's trade-offs — the one that should have happened a while ago."

Cohn is right that there was no serious conversation about those trade-offs back when Congress was considering the law's passage in 2009 and 2010. But why was that? It was because President Obama and his Democratic allies could not speak seriously — and honestly — about those trade-offs and still pass their bill.

So instead, Obama assured Americans they could keep health care policies they liked. And it wasn't just Obama. "One of our core principles is that if you like the health care you have, you can keep it," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in August 2009. "If you like what you have, you can keep it," said then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in October of the same year.

Many, many Democrats promised the same thing. They had to. If they had declared openly that millions of Americans would lose their current coverage and face higher premiums and deductibles — if Obama and Democratic leaders had said that, they would not have been able to maintain party unity in support of the bill, and the Affordable Care Act would never have passed Congress.

It would not have mattered that Republicans opposed the bill unanimously. A frank public discussion of Obamacare would have divided Democratic support, with the result being no new law at all.

But now, as the reality of Obamacare begins to present itself in the lives of millions of Americans, the president and his party can no longer avoid an honest look at the law they passed. And one part of that honesty will be examining what they said when they passed Obamacare. There will likely be a lot of accountability in coming months.

For example, CNN's Jake Tapper recently asked Rep. Steve Israel, a leading congressional Democrat, whether the bill's supporters "were as forthright about some of the issues as they could have been" during the Obamacare debate. Tapper specified not just the president's keep-your-coverage promise but "some of the trade-offs" of the law that favor some Americans over others. "If you could go back in time, do you think there should have been more honest salesmanship?" Tapper asked.

"Well, there should have been certainly more precise education and more precise salesmanship, there's no question about that," Israel said. "But you can't go back in time."

Yes, you can. Not literally; of course Democrats can't have a do-over. But the American people can certainly go back in time and examine the Democratic sales job for Obamacare in light of today's reality. The president and his party knew full well the trade-offs they were making; they just didn't tell the rest of the country.

All during the debate, Democratic officeholders, aides, policy wonks, advocates and sympathetic journalists all knew coverage cancellations would be coming as part of Obamacare. Of course, the president knew, too. When Obama made the keep-your-coverage promise, over and over, those Washington insiders accepted the untruth as a necessary part of the process, something Democrats had to do to pass their bill.

But millions of Americans didn't get the memo and took Obama at his word. And now that the promise has been proven false, the president is trying to recover his credibility — his desire to do so was painfully evident at his long and sometimes rambling news conference — and his party is searching for cover.

There won't be any. In coming days, Republicans, who voted unanimously against Obamacare, will be happy to remind the public of what Democrats promised. The House GOP leadership recently published a list of quotes from 61 House Democrats pledging that if Americans liked their health coverage they could keep it. And in the Senate, for those vulnerable Democrats up for re-election in 2014, the accountability could be quite painful indeed.

The situation could become infinitely worse if problems now plaguing the individual insurance market begin to infect employer-based insurance, which covers by far the largest number of Americans.

In response, Democrats will no doubt talk a lot about various measures to "fix" this or that part of Obamacare. But voters will know that those Democrats are just seeking to clean up a mess they made in the first place. The political price to be paid could be very, very high.

Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.


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Michael Williams November 25, 2013 | 7:36 a.m.

"All during the debate, Democratic officeholders, aides, policy wonks, advocates and sympathetic journalists all knew coverage cancellations would be coming as part of Obamacare."

The "sympathetic journalists" part is the most disturbing, and I think it's still happening. The amount of journalistic lipstick being smeared on this pig is truly astounding, remarkable at it's "If we can sell this to the American dumbies, we can sell anything" mentality.

Nonetheless, I do congratulate the Missourian for publishing an article that takes advocates to the task, albeit a few years too late.

This story has political legs not easily forgotten or smoothed over. Why, you ask?

Well, it's the gift that keeps on giving....each month when the premium bills arrive and each time a patient is asked to pay his/her portion of the deductible when checking out of the doctor's office. The gift is politically neutral, bringing joy and happiness to ALL political disciplines each time the mail comes or we get sick. The memory of "kept mum" will be revived time-and-time again. Like an annoying mosquito, it just won't go away.

Any word yet on whether Boone Hospital (BJC) will be covered under Obamacare Anthem policies? That's kind of a big deal hereabouts, dontcha think? After all, insurance and medical are 2 of the 3 big economic engines hereabouts.

In other words, it's local......

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