With President Obama's approval ratings plummeting, White House aides labored Tuesday to explain his broken promises about Obamacare in the face of videos showing the president repeatedly stating untruths about the law.
Rather than admit Mr. Obama was wrong when he told consumers regularly and emphatically that everyone could keep their health insurance, White House officials gave their third variation in a week about what the president really meant to say. This time, they said the president was giving the public "a statement about the overall promise" of the law.
"Communications are challenging here," said a flustered White House press secretary Jay Carney.
As insurers continued to send cancellation notices in response to Obamacare, the president's chief of staff summoned top insurance executives to the White House and urged them to improve their "education efforts" aimed at the millions of people who are losing coverage. The move reflected in part the administration's stance that insurance companies aren't cooperating enough to smooth the transition to Obamacare.
On Capitol Hill, even one of the Senate's most liberal Democrats expressed concern that Obamacare and its error-prone website are crumbling under a lack of public confidence.
"I believe there has been a crisis of confidence created in the dysfunctional nature of the website, cancellation of policies and sticker shock for some people," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat and an ardent supporter of the law, said at a hearing where lawmakers grilled Mr. Obama's point person for the program.
Some Democratic lawmakers have introduced legislation to make Mr. Obama's broken promise a reality by allowing Americans to keep their health insurance plans. The White House on Tuesday wouldn't commit to the proposal.
The president kept a low profile, holding meetings at the White House and visiting wounded soldiers privately at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda. He is traveling Wednesday to Dallas to thank volunteers at an Obamacare call center and to promote enrollment in the program.
Evidence shows that the public is beginning to hold Mr. Obama accountable for the law's early failures and his broken promises. The Gallup tracking poll showed that Mr. Obama's job approval rating fell to 39 percent for the three-day period ending Monday. It was his lowest showing in the poll since a rock-bottom rating of 38 percent in October 2011, and an 11-point drop since December.
The president's approval rating among Hispanics fell to 49 percent, a 9-point drop in one week.
With millions of Americans losing their health insurance, critics hammered Mr. Obama and his advisers for the second straight week about his unequivocal pledge over the past four years that Obamacare wouldn't force people to change their coverage or their doctors.
On Monday night, Mr. Obama tried to revise history by saying he was telling people all along that they could keep their plans "if" the insurance companies hadn't made any changes.
That version crumbled quickly in the face of web videos showing a montage of Mr. Obama's no-strings promises that "if you like your plan, you can keep your plan." In one 90-second video, Mr. Obama recites this ironclad promise 23 times. In another, he makes the pledge 29 times.
Even as late as Sept. 26 — days before the launch of the website, years after the law was passed and after the enabling regulations written — Mr. Obama told an audience in Maryland, "The first thing you need to know is this: If you already have health care, you don't have to do anything." He even emphasized that this was true regardless of whether Americans had insurance "through their job, or through Medicare or through the individual market."
Pressed repeatedly by reporters, Mr. Carney refused to say whether Mr. Obama regrets making the emphatic and repeated promise that people could keep their health care plans under the law.
"The president spoke about the broad promise here. He spoke about the absolute need to make sure that quality, affordable health care was available to all," Mr. Carney said.
But Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, noted that the White House website still proclaimed the debunked "keep your plan" promise Tuesday morning.
"I looked up the White House website this morning — 'if you like your plan you can keep it and you don't have to change a thing due to the health care law,'" Mr. Alexander said. "In fact, the plan cancels millions of individual policies. And for millions of others, employers are dropping insurance programs as they discover the added costs of Obamacare."
He said the program is offering consumers an unintended promise: "If you want health care, go find it on a website that the administration says won't be working properly until the end of November."
"That's an unwelcome Christmas present — only two weeks to shop for and buy a new insurance policy by Dec. 15 so that you're covered next year when Obamacare outlaws your policy," Mr. Alexander said.
The error-filled HealthCare.gov website was also on the agenda of the meeting held by White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough with CEOs of some of the nation's largest health insurers. Mr. McDonough updated the executives on the progress of tech teams working around the clock to fix the website.
Mr. McDonough also emphasized the need for everyone involved in the program "to ramp up communication and education efforts" to some of the estimated 5 percent of consumers — about 15 million people — who are losing coverage, Mr. Carney said.
"We need to ensure that ... that portion of the 5 percent who might be getting these letters are made aware that they have a pretty broad array of options available to them," Mr. Carney said. "We need to get that information to the American people."
The administration wants about 7 million people to enroll for insurance by March 31, to make sure the program works financially as projected. Because of the website problems and other complications, only 248 people enrolled nationwide in the first three days.
The administration will issue its first report about enrollment statistics next week, and officials have been downplaying the expected numbers as a slow start.
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