The President received several questions on Obamacare during his press conference. Here are the highlights.
The most interesting exchange came from Chuck Todd, which focused on last night’s “waiver.”
Q: Thank you, Mr. President. And merry Christmas, and happy new year. You’ve talked about the issues with health care and the website rollout, but there have been other issues, the misinformation about people keeping their policies, the extended deadlines, some postponements. We have a new waiver that HHS announced last night. How do you expect Americans to have confidence and certainty in this law if you keep changing it? This one here, this new waiver last night — could argue you might as well have just delayed the mandate.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, no, that’s not true because what we’re talking about is a very specific population that received cancelation notices from insurance companies. The majority of them are either keeping their old plan because the grandfather clause has been extended further or they’re finding a better deal in the marketplace with better insurance or cheaper costs. But there may still be a subset, a significantly smaller subset than some of the numbers that have been advertised, that are still looking for options, are still concerned about what they’re going to be doing next year. And we just wanted to make sure that the hardship provision that was already existing in the law would also potentially apply to somebody who had problems during this transition period. So that’s the specifics of this latest change.
Of course the problems–higher premiums and inability to signup, are the direct results of Obamacare.
You’re making a broader point that — that I think is fair.
And that is that in a big project like this, that what we are constantly doing is looking — is this working the way it’s supposed to, and if there are adjustments that can be made to smooth out the transition, we should make them.
Adjustments? Government doesn’t work by making adjustments on the fly. This is literally “improvisational government.” We have the rule of law to limit arbitrary whims.
But they don’t go to the core of the law. First of all, the core of the law is, is that for 85 percent of the population, all they’ve been getting is free preventive care, better consumer protections, the ability to keep their kids on their insurance plan till they’re 26, thousand-dollar or $500 discounts on prescription drugs for seniors on Medicare. So 85 percent of the population, whether they know it or not, over the last three years have benefited from a whole set of the provisions of the law.
No! No! No! The mandate, literally, is the “core” of the law. Your Solicitor General told that to the Supreme Court. This is remarkable sophistry. The only reason why pajama boy can stay on his parent’s plan while he sips hot cocoa is because people who have jobs pay the mandate penalty, or pay insurance, and contribute to the risk pool. He has to know better than this.
And by the way, if it were to be repealed, you would be taking away all those benefits from — from folks who already are enjoying them.
If the mandate goes away, and we enter a death spiral, pajama boy staying on his policy is the least of our worries.
You have this subportion of the population, 15 percent, who either don’t have health insurance or are buying it on the individual market. And that’s still millions of people. And what we’re doing is creating a marketplace where they can buy insurance, and we can provide them some tax credits to help them afford it.
The basic structure of that law is working, despite all the problems.
This reminds me of John McCain’s, “the fundamentals of our economy are strong” line in 2008.
Despite the website problems, despite the messaging problems, despite all that, it’s working. And again, you don’t have to take my word for it. We’ve got a couple million people who are going to have health insurance just in the first three months, despite the fact that probably the first month and a half was lost because of problems with the website and about as bad a bunch of publicity as you could imagine.
And yet, you’ve still got 2 million people who signed up — or more. And so, what that means, then, is that the demand is there, and as I said before, the product is good.
Now, in putting something like this together, there are going to be all kinds of problems that crop up, some of which may have been unanticipated. And what we’ve been trying to do is just respond to them in a common-sense way, and we’re going to continue to try to do that.
Again, they are responding to problems in a totally ad hoc, random way. This is not “common-sense.”
But that doesn’t negate the fact that, you know, a year from now or two years from now, when we look back, we’re going to be able to say that even more people have health insurance who didn’t have it before.
And that’s not a bad thing; that’s a good thing. That is part of the reason why I pushed so hard to get this law done in the first place. And — you know, I’ve said before that this is a messy process. And I think, sometimes, when I say that, people say, well, A, yeah, it’s real messy, and B, you know, isn’t — isn’t the fact that it’s been so messy some indication that there are more fundamental problems with the law?
And I guess what I’d say to that, Chuck, is, when you try to do something this big affecting this many people, it’s going to be hard. And every instance — whether it’s Social Security, Medicare, the prescription drug plan under President Bush — there hasn’t been an instance where you’ve tried to really have an impact on the American peoples’ lives and well-being, particularly in the health care arena where you don’t end up having some of these challenges.
But here the challenges are *caused* by the law, and the arbitrary manner in which the Administration has attempted to “fix” it.
The question is going to be, ultimately, do we make good decisions trying to help as many people as possible in as efficient a way as possible? And I think that’s what we’re doing.
Todd specifically asked about the fact that the President is now urging people who had policies cancelled to sign up for the catastrophic-care plans–plans a few days ago he disparaged!
Q: But with 72 hours to go, you make this change where people are buying the junk — frankly, a junk-type policy that you weren’t — you were trying to get people away from.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, do keep in mind, Chuck, first of all, that the majority of folks are going to have different options. This is essentially an additional net in case folks might have slipped through the cracks.
They didn’t slip through the cracks. Obamacare cancelled their old policies, and Obamacare caused new policies to be too expensive.
We don’t have precision on those numbers, but we expect it’s going to be a relatively small number because these are folks who want insurance, and the vast majority of them have good options. And in a state like North Carolina, for example, the overwhelming majority of them have just kept their own plans, so — the ones that they had previously.
But we thought and continue to think that it makes sense that as we are transitioning to a system in which insurance standards are higher, people don’t have unpleasant surprises because they thought they had insurance until they hit a limit, and next thing you know they still owe a hundred thousand or 200(,000 dollars) or $300,000 for a hospital visit, that as we transition to higher standards, better insurance, that we also address folks who get caught in that transition and their unintended consequences.
And I’ll — that was the original intent of the grandfather clause that was in the law. Obviously, the problem was it didn’t catch enough people.
Through regulations, HHS narrowed the grandfather clause. This wasn’t an accident. The plan was to push people off their plans.
And you know, we learned from that, and we’re trying not to repeat those mistakes.
Q: But the mandate will be enforced — (off mic) —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Absolutely, yeah.
Mandate? What Mandate?
Also, a question from Julie Pace about whether people should trust the President:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Julie Pace of AP.
Q: Thank you, Mr. President. Despite all of the data points that you cited in your opening statement, when you look back at this year, very little of the domestic agenda that you outlined in your inaugural address, in your State of the Union has been achieved. Health care rollout obviously had huge problems, and your ratings from the public are near historic lows for you. When you take this all together, has this been the worst year of your presidency?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: (Chuckles.) I — I got to tell you, Julie, that’s not how I think about it. I have now been in office five years, close to five years, was running for president for two years before that, and for those who’ve covered me during that time, we have had ups and we have had downs. I think this room has probably recorded at least 15 near-death experiences.
And what I’ve been focused on each and every day is, are we moving the ball in helping the American people, families, have more opportunity, have a little more security, to feel as if, if they work hard, they can get ahead.
And if — if I look at this past year, there are areas where there obviously have been some frustrations, where I wish Congress had moved more aggressively. You know, not passing background checks in the wake of Newtown is something that I continue to believe was a mistake.
But then I also look at, because of the debate that occurred, all the work that’s been done at the state levels, to increase gun safety and to make sure that we don’t see tragedies like that happen again.
There’s a lot of focus on legislative activity at the congressional level. But even when Congress doesn’t move on things they should move on, there are a whole bunch of things that we’re still doing. So we don’t always get attention for it, but the ConnectED program that we announced, where we’re going to be initiating wireless capacity in every classroom in America, will make a huge difference for kids all across this country and for teachers; a manufacturing hub that we set up in Youngstown, something that I talked about during the State of the Union, is going to create innovation and connect universities, manufacturers, job training, to help create a renaissance — build on the renaissance that we’re seeing in manufacturing.
When it comes to energy, this year is going to be the first year in a very long time where we’re producing more oil and natural gas here in this country than we’re importing. That’s a big deal.
So I understand the point that you’re getting at, Julie, which is that a lot of our legislative initiatives in Congress have not moved forward as rapidly as I’d like. I completely understand that, which means that I’m going to keep at it. And if you look at, for example, immigration reform, probably the biggest thing that I wanted to get done this year, we saw progress. It passed the Senate with a strong bipartisan vote.
There are indications in the House that even though it did not get completed this year, that there is a commitment on the part of this speaker to try to move forward legislation early next year. And the fact that it didn’t hit the timeline that I’d prefer is obviously frustrating, but it’s not something that I end up brooding a lot about.
Q: But sir, it’s not just your legislative agenda. When you look at — (off mic) — you talk to Americans, they seem to have lost confidence in you, trust in you. Your credibility have taken a hit. Obviously, the health care law was a big part of that. So do you understand that those — that the public has changed, in some way, their view of you over this year?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: But Julie, I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re measuring this by polls, my polls have gone up and down a lot through the course of my career. I mean, if I was interested in polling, I wouldn’t have run for president. I was polling at 70 percent was — when I was in the U.S. Senate. I took this job to deliver for the American people, and I knew and will continue to know that there are going to be ups and downs on it.
You’re right. The health care website problems were a source of great frustration. I think in the last press conference I adequately discussed my frustrations on those. On the other hand, since that time I now have a couple million people, maybe more, who are going to have health care on January 1st. And that is a big deal. That’s why I ran for this office. And as long as I’ve got an opportunity every single day to make sure that in ways large and small I’m creating greater opportunity for people, more kids are able to go to school, get the education they need, more families are able to stabilize their finances, you know, the housing market is continuing to improve, people feel like their wages maybe are inching up a little bit — if those things are happening, I’ll take it.
And you know, I’ve said before, I’ve run my last political race. So at this point, my goal every single day is just to make sure that I can look back and say we’re delivering something, not everything, because this is a long haul.
Also a related question from Jon Karl:
Q: Thank you, Mr. President. It’s been a tough year. You may not want to call it the worst year of your presidency, but it’s clearly been a tough year. The polls have gone up and down, but they are at a low point right now. So what I’m asking you — you’ve acknowledged the difficulties with the health care rollout. But when you look back and you look at the decisions that you have made and what you did, what you didn’t do, for you personally, what do you think has been your biggest mistake?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: With respect to health care specifically or just generally?
Q: The whole thing, look back at this tough year.
PRESIDENT OBAMA:Well, there’s no doubt that — that when it — when it came to the health care rollout, even though I was meeting every other week or every three weeks with folks and emphasizing how important it was that consumers had a good experience, an easy experience in getting the information they need and knowing what the choices and options were for them to be able to get high-quality, affordable health care, the fact is it didn’t happen in the first month, the first six weeks, in a way that was at all acceptable. And since I’m in charge, obviously, we screwed it up.
I’ll inject for a moment. Notice the change of pronouns. “I’m in charge.” Then, “we screwed up.” If you get a chance, read the book, “The Secret Life of Pronouns.”
Part of it, as I’ve said before, had to do with how IT procurement generally is done, and it almost predates this year. Part of it obviously had to do with the fact that there were not clear enough lines of authority in terms of who was in charge of the technology and cracking the whip on a whole bunch of contractors. So there are a whole bunch of things that we’ve been taking a look at.
Again, someone else’s problem. Not mine.
And I’m going to be making appropriate adjustments once we get through this year and we’ve gotten through the initial surge of people who have been signing up.
But, you know, having said all that, the bottom line also is that we’ve got — several million people are going to have health care that works. And it’s not that I don’t engage in a lot of self- reflection here. I promise you, I probably beat myself up, you know, even worse that you or Ed Henry does — (laughter) — on any given day. But I’ve also got to wake up in the morning and make sure that I do better the next day and that we keep moving forward.
And when I look at the landscape for next year, what I say to myself is: We’re poised to do really good things. The economy is stronger than it has been in a very long time. Our next challenge then is to make sure that everybody benefits from that and not just a few folks. And there’s still too many people who haven’t seen a raise and are still feeling financially insecure. We can get immigration reform done. We’ve got a concept that has bipartisan support. Let’s see if we can break through the politics on this.
You know, I think that hopefully folks have learned their lesson in terms of brinksmanship coming out of the — coming out of the government shutdown. You know there have been times where I’ve thought about, were there other ways that I could have prevented that — those three, four weeks that hampered the economy and hurt individuals families who were not getting a paycheck during that time? Absolutely, but I also think that in some ways, given the pattern that we have been going through with House Republicans for a while, we might have needed just a little bit of a bracing sort of recognition that this is not what the American people think is acceptable.
They want us to try to solve problems and be practical, even if we can’t get everything done.
So, you know, the end of the year is always a good time to reflect and see what can you do better next year. That’s how I intend to approach it. I am sure that I will have even better ideas after a couple days of sleep and sun.