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PolitiFact: Obamacare ‘subject to more erroneous attacks' than any other law

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In an Organizing for Action campaign event on the 4th of November of this year, President Obama did his best to explain the underlying truth behind the statements he had made relating to what's known as the "Grandfather" provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act:

"Now, if you have or had one of these plans before the Affordable Care Act came into law and you really liked that plan, what we said was you can keep it if it hasn’t changed since the law passed. So we wrote into the Affordable Care Act, you're grandfathered in on that plan. But if the insurance company changes it, then what we're saying is they've got to change it to a higher standard. They've got to make it better, they've got to improve the quality of the plan they are selling. That's part of the promise that we made too. That's why we went out of our way to make sure that the law allowed for grandfathering.

If we had allowed these old plans to be downgraded, or sold to new enrollees once the law had already passed, then we would have broken an even more important promise -- making sure Americans gain access to health care that doesn't leave them one illness away from financial ruin. The bottom line is that we are making the insurance market better for everybody and that's the right thing to do."

Even political conservative and former Presidential candidate, Pat Buchanan noted on the Friday, December 27th McLaughlin Group broadcast that the Most Over-reported Story award for 2013 was the unending coverage of the Affordable Care Act:

"It's day and night, day and night on the cable channels and it is blocking out, John, stories about what is going on in Asia, what is going on in the Middle East, what is going on in the Ukraine. It's dominating everything and I think it's overdone.

Host John McLaughlin suggested that the Best Political Theater award ought to go to President Barack Obama:

"Trying to explain away his "broken promise" to millions of Americans that if they wanted to keep their health insurance under Obamacare, they can keep it. He squirms, he rationalizes, he splits infinitives, and all the while his credibility plummeted."

In a radio interview that aired on World News Daily on Dec. 25 featuring Larry Sabato the professor of political science at the University of Virginia and director of the University's Center for Politics, speaking about the President's trust factor, which is often revealed in the comprehensive polling for his overall job performance, now at the lowest ratings of his full five-year Presidency:

“Right now, depending on the poll, it’s between the upper 30s and the low 40s. Obviously that’s not a very good position to be in when you’re the incumbent president and you have more than three years to run in your term. This is going to be a long, long lame duck period.

One thing that I think all historians and political scientists look for in a Presidency is the moment, if it occurs, when the credibility gap opens, and it’s happened for Obama, not because of the rocky roll-out of Obamacare, not because a website doesn’t work -- although it should have -- It’s because of that oft-repeated statement, which many people bought because the president said it, and people said, ‘Well, if he’s got all these advisers, surely they checked.’

if you like your doctor you can keep him if you like your insurance plan you can keep it and it turns out – for many Americans that’s not true. The fact that a president would say that over and over again creates a credibility problem.”

Professor Sabato also pointed to a number of other Presidents who found themselves in similar, unsettling, situations including Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton:

“There are these moments in a Presidency when people can focus on whether a President is telling the truth or not; and once you’ve found out that somebody can lie to you over and over again and do it pretty convincingly, you’re a little less inclined to be gullible."

The facts are, though, that United States Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius had covered this ground in her 2010 Teleconference on Enrollment in the Health Insurance Marketplace carefully explained the provisions of the Affordable Care Act in September of that year; and any number of responsible journalists clarified further in subsequent weeks, for the American people.

Allison Young, writing in USA Today, in September of 2010, explained:

"The law contains provisions that allow some existing plans — those that don't significantly raise prices or reduce benefits — to maintain a "grandfathered" status. The goal was to help smooth the transition to major changes mandated by the law in 2014."

Young also quoted Steve Larsen, of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), "Grandfathered plans were the law's answer to addressing the desire by individuals and employers who like their current coverage to keep that coverage." Young also writes:

"Among benefits beginning this week that don't apply to certain grandfathered plans:

• Free preventive care. Both individual and group health plans with grandfathered status can still charge co-payments and deductibles for preventive services such as vaccinations and mammograms. Yet new health plans that began on or after Thursday must completely cover recommended preventive services.

• Increased annual coverage limits. Grandfathered individual plans — but not grandfathered group plans — can continue their current annual caps. New plans of all types and grandfathered group plans must phase in an increasing amount of annual coverage.

• Coverage for sick children. Grandfathered individual plans — but not grandfathered group plans — are exempt from rules against denying coverage to children with medical conditions.

All plans, regardless of whether they are new or grandfathered, are subject to several other provisions that take effect after Thursday. They include requirements that insurers let young adults be covered by their parents' health plans until age 26 and that prohibit insurers from setting lifetime coverage limits or using a technicality to cancel coverage after a person gets sick.

Far fewer consumers will be in grandfathered health plans in the next few years than the federal government estimated, according to a survey released in August by Hewitt Associates, a global human resources consulting firm. HHS had estimated that next year, 71%-87% of large employers would have plans in grandfathered status."

Young quotes Ron Pollack of Families USA health consumer group, who had said that he "doesn't expect a significant outcry from consumers" in those grandfathered plans:

"There might be some, but I don't think it's going to be enormous because the number of plans that will qualify for grandfathered status will keep diminishing."

Washington Post staff writers David S. Hilzenrath and N.C. Aizenman focused specifically to the President's statement: "If you like your health plan, you can keep it," in their June 15, 2010 article, "New health-care rules could add costs, and benefits, noting that now some insurance plans,"had specific new rules issued on 14 June 2010, that fulfilled that promise" -- yet pointed out that the plan "might not be quite the same -- it could offer more benefits, and it could cost more."

The tempest involves an issue known as "grandfathering." Consistent with Obama's promise, the legislation said health plans in existence when the law was enacted are exempt from some of its requirements. But the law left it to the administration to decide how much a health plan can change without forfeiting that exemption.

The rules issued Monday begin to answer the question.

For instance, health plans would lose their protected status if they significantly raise deductibles or other out-of-pocket charges patients pay when they seek medical care.

Some plans require members to pay a percentage -- 20 percent, for example -- of the hospital or doctor bill. If plans want to remain grandfathered, they can't raise the percentages.

For increases in deductibles, the trigger is medical inflation plus 15 percentage points."

The folks at the Tampa Bay Times' Politifact, "Truth-o-Meter" rated the President's statement made at a New Hampshire town hall meeting on Aug. 11, 2009, "If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan," to have been "overly optimistic given the bill’s details at the time," and they rated it Half True.

Yet when the President gave a speech to a joint session of Congress in September 2009, they rated as true the following claim the President made:

"If you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance through your job, or Medicare, or Medicaid, or the VA, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have."

In this case, the Truth-o-Meter concluded that "nothing in Obama’s proposal proactively forced such changes, and the bills clearly intended to leave much of the current health care system in place."

In their explaining that Ruing further, they write:

"Obama has a reasonable point: His health care law does take pains to allow Americans to keep their health plan if they want to remain on it. But Obama suggests that keeping the insurance you like is guaranteed.

In reality, Americans are not simply able to keep their insurance through thick and thin. Even before the law has taken effect, the rate of forced plan-switching among policyholders every year is substantial, and the CBO figures suggest that the law could increase that rate, at least modestly, even if Americans on balance benefit from the law’s provisions.

We rate Obama’s claim Half True.

Yet, at the close of 2013, when it came time for the annual summary, they wrote:

For four of the past five years, PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year has revolved around the health care law, which has been subject to more erroneous attacks than any other piece of legislation PolitiFact has fact-checked.

And this calendar year was no exception, as Angie Drobnic Holan wrote for Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact earlier this month:

"Lie of the Year: 'If you like your health care plan, you can keep it'

It was a catchy political pitch and a chance to calm nerves about his dramatic and complicated plan to bring historic change to America’s health insurance system.

"If you like your health care plan, you can keep it," President Barack Obama said -- many times -- of his landmark new law.

But the promise was impossible to keep."

In the World News Daily interview that aired on Christmas night, Larry Sabato had also pointed out that the timing of the rollout of Obamacare -- with its consequent problems with creating a website that was to be dedicated for both the information folks would need to make a choice in the marketplace exchanges and the way to officialy enroll -- just following the 17-day government shutdown, took the focus away from what would likely have been trouble for the GOP. The majority of Americans, irrespective of their position on the Affordable Care Act, did not approve of bringing the government down, in light of the enormous costs at a time when fiscal responsibility is the prime directive. Professor Sabato acknowledges that the timing was fortuitous:

"Obamacare saved the Republicans from a long-term hit. Remember, we’ve got the debt limit coming up again. The question is, did Republicans really learn a lesson from that 17-day shutdown, because it cost them big. They’re not going to get a second roll-out of Obamacare to rescue them, in all likelihood. If they learned their lesson, they’re going to leave that alone during the election year, and they’re going to go ahead and raise the debt limit and not shut down the government.”

The portal was created to serve the residents of the 36 states that chose to opt out of creating their own exchanges for their constituents.

The challenge, evidently, was to provide a website with specifications for information technology and communications that would offer a marketplace healthcare exchange in order to allow individuals and groups to make choices among private insurance companies -- essentially choosing among various benefits and balancing their decisions about payment based on what that individual or group could afford to pay, and which would also be based on that individual's health at the time of the application -- since the insurance companies had now agreed to allow even those with "pre-existing conditions" to take advantage of there being a "quantity" discount (to balance the pool of those who are young and in good health with those who are older -- but less than 65 years of age -- and in good health, and those who may be challenged by conditions that require treatment and medications in order to prevent additional health issues) that would prevail if -- and probably only if -- the majority of that relatively small percentage of Americans who are not already covered.

This was determined to be the best way to keep healthcare costs low, and in the absence of any other plan to keep those costs low, the measure was passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives and signed by the President as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as 'Obamacare').



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