As all presidents have to do from time to time – though it has been with increased frequency over the past 20 years or so – President Obama held a press conference on Thursday that was no less of a minefield verbally than the ones the combat soldiers over who he is Commander-in-Chief have to dodge literally in the field of battle.
Obama has been drowning as of late, mainly because of the initial failures of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka “Obamacare,” the policy that most defines Barack Obama’s presidency, and upon which it ultimately might be measured.
On the one hand, there was the much-maligned technical glitch – far too many who tried to sign up for ACA online found they could not. That, of course, obfuscates the larger issue of whether as large a number as anticipated even attempted to sign up for Obamacare in the first place.
An even graver consequence was Obama’s oft-repeated and ultimately misleading promise that “if you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan, period.” More so than at any point during his five-year presidency, Obama faces criticism not only from the usual cast of Fox News and conservative talk radio detractors, but also from many of his staunchest supporters.
Conservatives beam, and liberals fess, that President Obama lied. Rare is the contrarian in this case – ironically, Fox’s most successful talk show host, Bill O’Reilly, who damns Obama with faint praise: he didn’t lie, O’Reilly suggests, he simply didn’t read the law, and so he didn’t know what he was talking about.
As we all focus on the word “keep” in the promise to “keep your plan,” the word “your” slithers by largely unnoticed. It is really “your” plan – i.e., our plan – to keep?
The vast majority of Americans do not have a plan, any more so than millions of Walmart shoppers have a store. In the latter case, at least Walmart shoppers rarely refer to their neighborhood franchise as “my store.” More accurately, they say “The Walmart near my house.” After all, the store is owned not by the shoppers, but by Walmart. That means Walmart can decide to close it down tomorrow, and suddenly those shoppers will realize that there’s nothing they can to about it, and so it was never “their” store to begin with.
Far too many Americans, however, do not realize that “their” insurance plan is really owned by their employers, and they are merely allowed to be a part of it – just like Walmart allows them to shop there. “My plan,” therefore, really means “the plan in which I am currently permitted to participate.”
Before and after Obamacare, employers simply may change their employees’ status from full-time to part-time, thereby averting any legal obligations to provide health insurance.
If the government simply maintained a social safety net for those who cannot afford any out of pocket premiums for healthcare – as it does now – and permitted the rest of the folks, i.e., most of them, to take that same money now deducted from their paychecks, or which they pay out of pocket, and place it in to tax-free medical savings accounts, which could be passed on to descendants – again, tax free – then finally, we would have a “your” plan to speak of, when discussing whether or not it could be kept.