In an interview with NBC News, Mr. Obama said that he did not do enough to ensure that the law did not force the termination of insurance policies that people like because they do not meet the law’s new coverage requirements.“It means a lot to them. And it’s scary to them. And I am sorry that they, you know, are finding themselves in this situation, based on assurances they got from me,” Mr. Obama told Chuck Todd of NBC in an interview in the Diplomatic Room of the White House. “We’ve got to work hard to make sure that we hear them and that we’re going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this.”
What this non-apology apology shows is that political realities are trumping wonkish dreams when it comes to health care. For weeks health care specialists who favor Obamacare have been urging President Obama to make the case that any health care reform would involve “winners and losers.” They wanted him to defend the cancellations and the premium spikes as essential to what the law attempts to do: provide people with “better” insurance and redistribute from the young and the healthy to the sick and the old. Josh Barro makes this case here, Ezra Klein here, and Jonthan Cohn here.For a while the Obama administration adopted this rhetoric as well. But this interview shows it’s now trying a new strategy. Instead of owning up to the cancellations and rate shocks as essential and ultimately beneficial parts of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama is telegraphing an intention to walk them back as much as he can. It’s too early to tell whether this will translate into any actual changes to the law or its implementation, but it does definitely suggest one thing: wonks and politicians often make different calculations about the political realities of policies, and any health care reform that substantially disrupts the insurance market will always have a very steep climb ahead of it.