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Sunday, July 13, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 11/10/2013

EDITORIALS

Truth about a ‘lie’

Hundreds of thousands of health-insurance cancellation notices have gone out to Americans; with each one, President Obama’s credibility has eroded further. Republicans who are determined to undermine Obamacare have seized on the moment with grim relish. They say the President is a liar.

But how fair is this to the President? And what does it really say about the Affordable Care Act?

This is a problem of Mr. Obama’s making. He repeatedly said that if you like your health insurance plan, you can keep it. He was three words short of absolute truth. All he had to say was “in most cases” — a distinction he should have made.

It’s unlikely that this extra bit of candor would have hindered the political effort to sell the legislation. People understand that not everybody can be left unaffected by such a sweeping change, and Mr. Obama should have been careful not to embellish the promise.

Was it a lie? He certainly should have known the facts. But by definition, a lie is a deliberate misstatement of the truth; it is not simply something that was wrongly stated with good intentions — in this case, perhaps, to make the complicated simple for public consumption.

Those who believe the worst of the President will conclude he lied. Those who do not will be more charitable.

No matter how his promise is parsed, President Obama made a mistake by not being scrupulously faithful to the facts in the first place. All the explanations offered now do not diminish his error. He handed a cudgel to the enemies of health-care reform.

Yet the way the President’s Republicans critics maul him over this, you would think that all Americans are in danger of losing their health insurance coverage, and that those who had their policies canceled would never be covered again.

In fact, these cancellations are occurring in the individual insurance market, which is a small fraction of the entire market even if millions of people are involved. Not everybody in this subset is affected; some plans are grandfathered in.

Plans are being canceled because they don’t meet the criteria of coverage set out in the Affordable Care Act and leave many people poorly covered. Those Americans who have been canceled can obtain other policies that may be more or less costly, but should offer them better coverage than before.

The furor of the supposed great lie is an embarrassment to Mr. Obama. But it obscures the larger and more important truth that the Affordable Care Act remains good policy.



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