President Obama’s nationally televised press conference Thursday — in addition to announcing an attempted administrative fix for people whose health plans had been canceled under Obamacare — was also a definitive mea culpa for the law’s flawed rollout, which has helped send the president’s approval rating plummeting.
On several occasions, Obama said that his administration had “fumbled” the implementation of his signature legislative achievement. The twin problems of people receiving cancellation letters and then being unable to access their new options under the law because of a dysfunctional website have driven the public’s view and trust of the Obama White House to unprecedented lows.
So Thursday, the president owned up to that failure.
“I think it’s legitimate for them to expect me to have to win back some credibility on this health care law in particular and on a whole range of these issues in general,” Obama told reporters. “You know, that’s on me. I mean, we fumbled the rollout on this health care law. “
“We always knew that these marketplaces — creating a place where people can shop and, through competition, get a better deal for the health insurance their families need — we always knew that was going to be complicated, and everybody was going to be paying a lot of attention to it. We should have done a better job getting that right on day one. Not on day 28 or on day 40.”
Obama acknowledged that he hadn’t been aware enough of HealthCare.gov’s pre-launch problems, even though there seemed to be warning signs within parts of the administration responsible for overseeing its construction.
“I was not informed directly the website would not be working the way it was supposed to. Had I been informed, I wouldn’t go out and say, ‘This is going to be great,'” he said. “So clearly we and I did not have enough awareness about the problems in the website.”
“The thinking was 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. That doesn’t excuse the fact they just don’t work.”
He also apologized again for his oft-repeated pledge that if Americans liked their current health plan, they could keep it. That was what the administrative fix that the White House was announcing Thursday is meant to address. But for the second time in a week, Obama placed the blame on his administration’s implementation of the law — rather than the intention of the law itself.
He implied that the rules covering those policies hadn’t been drafted as he intended.
“My expectation was that for 98 percent of the American people, either it genuinely wouldn’t change at all or they would be pleasantly surprised with the options in the marketplace, and that the grandfather clause would cover the rest,” he said. “That proved not to be the case. That’s on me. And the American people, those who got cancellation notices, do deserve and have received an apology from me. They don’t want just words. What they want is whether we can make sure they are in a better place and that we meet that commitment.”
But, even as he took responsibility for the law’s shortcomings, Obama emphasized that Obamacare still has a long way to go. The marketplaces have been open for less than two months. Most health policy experts agree that the current problems could be rendered moot if they’re fixed quickly. Along with the apology was an attempted projection of confidence from the president.
“Again, these are two fumbles … in a big game,” Obama said. “But the game is not over.”