The Right Prescription

No, You Can’t Keep Your Current Health Coverage

Yesterday, Dr. Obama took his dissembling act to Des Moines.

By 9.30.10

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There's a reason President Obama tries so hard to convince Americans not to watch Fox News. He keeps shamelessly lying about easily verifiable facts. Evidently he figures that left-leaning media outlets won't call him on it, so if he can only convince people not to watch FOX, he'll be OK. Unfortunately for the president, the American people simply have to look around them to see that he isn't being honest with them.

Campaigning in Des Moines, Iowa, yesterday, the President repeated his biggest health care reform whopper: You can keep your current health insurance. Here is what he said:

"There's nothing in the bill that says you have to change the health insurance you've got right now. If you were already getting health insurance on your job, then that doesn't change."

Yet hours before he uttered that line, the Boston Globe reported that Harvard Pilgrim Health Care was canceling its Medicare Advantage coverage specifically because of new regulations imposed by Obama's health care law.

The decision "was prompted by a freeze in federal reimbursements and a new requirement that insurers offering the kind of product sold by Harvard Pilgrim -- a Medicare Advantage private fee for service plan -- form a contracted network of doctors who agree to participate for a negotiated amount of money. Under current rules, patients can seek care from any doctor," the Globe reported.

Note: even if Harvard Pilgrim had kept its Medicare Advantage plan, the law would have required it to offer the service through doctors who agree "to participate for a negotiated amount of money." That means that, contrary to Obama's claim that you can keep your current doctor as well as your current insurance, the law requires Medicare Advantage providers to create HMO-style physician networks, in which your doctor might or might not agree to participate.

For New Englanders, Harvard Pilgrim's decision is pretty big news. That company's Medicare Advantage plan covered 22,000 people. Every one of them will have to switch insurers, and possibly doctors, because of Obamacare. For everyone else, it is a warning of things to come.

Obama's claim began to unravel last year, and when reporters (including some in the mainstream media) began to expose it as untrue, he revised it. In a June 23, 2009 press conference, he offered this clarification in response to a question from Jake Tapper of ABC News:

 "When I say if you have your plan and you like it, or you have a doctor and you like your doctor, that you don't have to change plans, what I'm saying is the government is not going to make you change plans under health reform."

That is deliberately misleading. As Politifact.com noted in an August, 2009 post that rated Obama's claim half-true, "It's not realistic for Obama to make blanket statements that 'you' will be able to 'keep your health care plan.' It seems like rhetoric intended to soothe people that health care reform will not be overly disruptive. But one of the points of reform is to change the way health care works right now."

Exactly. An honest claim would be that the changes imposed by this new law will result in many Americans losing either their coverage as it exists now or their doctor -- or both.

Politifact and others have rated as technically true Obama's claim that "the government is not going to make you change plans under health reform." But that is not true, either. The law mandates that health insurers change the coverage they offer. Insurers have to offer coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and to policyholders' children up to age 26. So technically, the law did change your health care plan.

As a direct result of those and other mandates, insurers will then implement further changes. For example, on Monday before last (more than a week before Obama again claimed that the law won't make you change your coverage), reports broke that several major insurers planned to stop offering new child-only coverage because of the health care law

"Some of the country's most prominent health insurance companies have decided to stop offering new child-only plans, rather than comply with rules in the new health-care law that will require such plans to start accepting children with preexisting medical conditions after Sept. 23," the Washington Post reported on September 20.

The law is only just beginning to take effect, and already insurers are dropping coverage for tens of thousands of Americans because of its burdensome mandates. There will be a lot more of this as additional Obamacare regulations become active. And yet the president still claims that the law won't make you change your coverage or your doctor. Is it any wonder he doesn't want Americans to get their information from news outlets that will check his claims?

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About the Author

Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. You can follow him on Twitter at @Drewhampshire.