Q Thank you, Mr. President. You said while the law was being debated, “if you like your plan, you can keep it.” You said after the law was implemented or signed, “if you like your plan, you can keep it.” Americans believed you, sir, when you said that to them over and over. Do you not believe, sir, the American people deserve a deeper, more transparent accountability from you as to why you said that over and over when your own statistic published in the Federal Register alerted your policy staff — and I presume you — to the fact that millions of Americans would, in fact, probably fall into the very gap you’re trying to administratively fix now?
That’s one question. Second question. (Laughter.) You were informed, or several people in this building were informed two weeks before the launch of the website that it was failing the most basic tests internally, and yet a decision was made to launch the website on October 1st. Did you, sir, make that test? And if so, did you regret that?
THE PRESIDENT: Okay, on the website, I was not informed directly that the website would not be working the way it was supposed to. Had I been informed, I wouldn’t be going out saying, boy, this is going to be great.
I’m accused of a lot of things, but I don’t think I’m stupid enough to go around saying, this is going to be like shopping on Amazon or Travelocity a week before the website opens if I thought that it wasn’t going to work. So clearly, we and I did not have enough awareness about the problems in the website. Even a week into it, the thinking was that these were some glitches that would be fixed with patches, as opposed to some broader systemic problems that took much longer to fix and we’re still working on them.
So that doesn’t excuse the fact that they just don’t work. But I think it’s fair to say that, no, Garrett — Major, we would not have rolled out something knowing very well that it wasn’t going to work the way it was supposed, given all the scrutiny that we knew was going to be on the website.
With respect to the pledge I made that if you like your plan, you can keep it, I think — and I’ve said in interviews — that there is no doubt that the way I put that forward unequivocally ended up not being accurate. It was not because of my intention not to deliver on that commitment and that promise. We put a grandfather clause into the law, but it was insufficient.
Keep in mind that the individual market accounts for 5 percent of the population. So when I said you can keep your health care, I’m looking at folks who’ve got employer-based health care; I’m looking at folks who’ve got Medicare and Medicaid — and that accounts for the vast majority of Americans. And then for people who don’t have any health insurance at all, obviously that didn’t apply. My commitment to them was, you’re going to be able to get affordable health care for the first time.
You have an individual market that accounts for about 5 percent of the population. And our working assumption was — my working assumption was that the majority of those folks would find better policies at lower costs or the same costs in the marketplaces, and that the universe of folks who potentially would not find a better deal in the marketplaces, the grandfather clause would work sufficiently for them. And it didn’t. And again, that’s on us. Which is why we’re — that’s on me. And that’s why I’m trying to fix it.
And as I said earlier, I guess last week, and I will repeat, that’s something I deeply regret because it’s scary getting a cancellation notice.
Now, it is important to understand that out of that population, typically there is constant churn in that market. This market is not very stable and reliable for people. So people have a lot of complaints when they’re in that marketplace. As long as you’re healthy, things seem to be going pretty good. And so a lot of people think, I’ve got pretty good insurance — until they get sick — and then suddenly they look at the fine print, and they’ve got a $50,000 out-of-pocket expense that they can’t pay.
We know that on average over the last decade, each year, premiums in that individual market would go up an average of 15 percent a year. I know that because when we were talking about health care reform, one of the complaints was: I bought health care in the individual market and I just got a notice from the insurer, they dropped me after I had an illness; or my premium skyrocketed by 20 or 30 percent, why aren’t we doing something about this?
So part of what our goal has been is to make sure that that individual market is stable and fair, and has the kind of consumer protections that make sure that people don’t get a rude surprise when they really need health insurance. But if you just got a cancellation notice, and so far you’re thinking, my prices are pretty good, you haven’t been sick, and it fits your budget, and now you get this notice — you’re going to be worried about it. And if the insurer is saying the reason you’re getting this notice is because of the Affordable Care Act, then you’re going to be understandably aggravated about it.
Now, for a big portion of those people, the truth is they might have gotten a notice saying, we’re jacking up your rates by 30 percent. They might have said, from here on out, we’re not going to cover X, Y and Z illnesses, we’re changing the — because these were all 12-month policies. The insurance companies were under no obligation to renew the exact same policies that you had before.
But, look, one of the things I understood when we decided to reform that health insurance market, part of the reason why it hasn’t been done before and it’s very difficult to do, is that anything that’s going on that’s tough in the health care market, if you initiated a reform, can be attributed to your law. And so what we want to do is to be able to say to these folks, you know what, the Affordable Care Act is not going to be the reason why insurers have to cancel your plan.
Now, what folks may find is the insurance companies may still come back and say, we want to charge you 20 percent more than we did last year; or we’re not going to cover prescription drugs now. But that’s in the nature of the market that existed earlier.
Q Did you decide, sir, that the simple declaration was something the American people could handle, but this nuanced answer you just gave now was something that you couldn’t handle and you didn’t trust the American people with a fuller truth?
THE PRESIDENT: No. I think, as I said earlier, Major, my expectation was that for 98 percent of the American people, either it genuinely wouldn’t change at all, or they’d be pleasantly surprised with the options in the marketplace, and that the grandfather clause would cover the rest.
That proved not to be the case. And that’s on me. And the American people — those who got cancellation notices do deserve and have received an apology from me. But they don’t want just words. What they want is whether we can make sure that they are in a better place, and that we meet that commitment.
And, by the way, I think it’s very important for me to note that there are a whole bunch of folks up in Congress and others who made this statement, and they were entirely sincere about it. And the fact that you’ve got this percentage of people who have had this impact — I want them to know that their senator or congressman, they were making representations based on what I told them and what this White House and our administrative staff told them. And so it’s not on them. It’s on us. But it is something that we intend to fix.