You Can Keep It. Unless You Can't.

One of Pun Salad's bêtes noires in the ObamaCare debate has been what I've come to think of as the "you can keep it" lie. Previous posts mentioning this are here, here, here, and here. For those who don't want to wade back into all that, here's the (not so) short version:

The "you can keep it" lie has been one of ObamaCare's primary talking points for months. Here's the president, only a few weeks back, speaking in Portsmouth, NH:

Now, let me just start by setting the record straight on a few things I've been hearing out here -- (laughter) -- about reform. Under the reform we're proposing, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.
Might this have been an accidental misstatement? Nope. It was one of Obama's primary reassurances, hammered home time and again. The White House has a "Reality Check" web page entitled "You can keep your own insurance" with a video hosted by chief ObamaCare propagandist Linda Douglass.

Unsurprisingly, most Democratic politicians are happy to repeat this:

  • Steny Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi:
    [Health insurance reform] will allow every American who likes his or her current plan to keep it.

  • Senator Max Baucus:
    Healthcare reform will […] ensure that those who are happy with the healthcare coverage they have now can keep it.

  • My own Congresswoman, Carol Shea-Porter:
    […], under this plan, if you are happy with your present insurance, you can keep it.

  • NH Senator Jeanne Shaheen:
    […] if you have health coverage that you like you can keep it.

In addition, the Administration's sock puppets have mindlessly repeated this talking point:

    If you're happy with your coverage and doctors, you can keep them.

  • The AARP:
    If you like the coverage you have, you can keep it …

  • Consumer Reports:
    If you're satisfied with your job-based coverage, you would be able to keep it.

Truly a herd of independent minds.

In contrast, anyone who looked at the claim with any skepticism whatsoever found "you can keep it" to be (depending on their mood and attitude) less than accurate:

    … he can't make that promise to everyone.

  • Camille Paglia:
    You can keep your doctor; you can keep your insurance, if you're happy with it, Obama keeps assuring us in soothing, lullaby tones. Oh, really? And what if my doctor is not the one appointed by the new government medical boards for ruling on my access to tests and specialists? And what if my insurance company goes belly up because of undercutting by its government-bankrolled competitor?

  • Keith Hennessey:
    The President overpromised. So far the best he can deliver is, "If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan, as long as you're not one of the 10 million people whose employer will decide to stop offering you health insurance through your job." I think that loses some of its rhetorical punch.

  • The Wall Street Journal:
    You can keep it, as long your insurance company or employer can meet all the new regulations Mr. Obama favors.

  • Even the reliably Obama-tilted Politifact could only rate Obama's language "Half True", and if you read their analysis, that's just way too generous:
    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. So we rate Obama's statement Half True.

So, I had mixed feelings when, in last week's speech to Congress, Obama significantly failed to use the "you can keep it" lie. Here's version 2.0:

First, if you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance through your job, Medicare, Medicaid, or the VA, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have. Let me repeat this: nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.
Ah. Somewhat less reassuring. And it gets less reassuring the more you read it.

And this language shift was enough for Politifact to upgrade the president's assertion from "Half True" to "OMG Obama Is So Frickin' Awesome".)

Obama's statement from the speech is more carefully phrased than his earlier statement. In his speech, he said that if you are "already have health insurance through your job, Medicare, Medicaid, or the VA, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have." That is true, there is nothing in the plan that proactively forces these kinds of changes, and the bills clearly intend to leave much of the current health care system in place. We rate Obama's statement True.
Presumably all the other talking point-echoers will now update their now-obsolete "you can keep it" line with something reflecting the new-n-improved reassuring language. Eventually, "you can keep it" will vanish down the Memory Hole.

One thing's obvious to all but the Obama-enraptured: Given the massive layers of new regulations, subsidies, taxes, and penalties in the legislation, it would be completely unrealistic to expect that just about everyone's health care arrangements would be not be in for any number of changes, some foreseeable, some not. Although these changes aren't technically "required" by the legislation, they would be, nonetheless, inevitable.

  • Cato's Michael Tanner isn't shy about pointing this out:
    [Obama's assertion] of course is quite simply untrue. The president favors a requirement that everyone must carry basic health insurance. But the individual mandate that he favors and included in the bills before Congress doesn't just say you have to have insurance: It specifies what benefits your insurance must have, even if you don't want those benefits or they boost the cost of your policy. […]

    [T]he reality is that, because a taxpayer-subsidized government plan could undercut private insurance premiums, employers would have every incentive to dump their employees into the government plan.

  • Diana Furchtgott-Roth weighs in:
    […] the vast web of regulations on insurance companies laid out by the president virtually ensures that some insurance plans will go out of business. Some Americans will not be able to keep their coverage or their doctor.

  • In addition: one thing missing from the president's "no changes" list is Medicare Advantage. The WSJ points out just how dishonest that is:
    So no cuts, for anyone--except, that is, for the 24% of senior beneficiaries who are enrolled in the Medicare Advantage program, which Democrats want to slash by $177 billion or more because it is run by private companies.

  • Shikha Dalmia deemed Obama's speech to be "the policy equivalent of the middle finger" to his critics. After detailing his many broken promises, misstatements, and unlikely predictions, she concludes:
    Obama lambasted the critics who claim his reform plan amounts to a government takeover of the health care system. But the plan he laid out Wednesday night will control every aspect of the medical transaction. It will tell patients when, what and how much coverage they must buy; it will tell sellers when, what and how much coverage they must sell. This is not a government takeover of health care? Then Tony Soprano is just a decent, hard-working businessman.

Bottom line: just because President Obama and his enchanted followers have changed their language, it's a mistake to think they've gotten any more honest. Their strategy is: say anything to get the legislation passed. David Harsanyi is suitably merciless, and unexcerptable. Read the whole thing.

Last Modified 2009-09-14 6:40 PM EDT