Barney Frank on the White House Rollout of Obamacare: “They just lied to people.”



Barack Obama, Barney Frank


Barney Frank on the White House Rollout of Obamacare: “They just lied to people.”

by Peter Suderman

Here’s former House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) on the administration’s terrible rollout of Obamacare last year, via Huffington Post:

“The rollout was so bad, and I was appalled — I don’t understand how the president could have sat there and not been checking on that on a weekly basis,” Frank told HuffPost during a July interview. “But frankly, he should never have said as much as he did, that if you like your current health care plan, you can keep it. That wasn’t true. And you shouldn’t lie to people. And they just lied to people.”

Basically, yes (although that wasn’t the only Obamacare-related thing the administration misled the public about).

Frank suggests that the Obama administration could have avoided some trouble by not making the promise. But the question is whether the law would have passed without an explicit vow that people could keep their plans and doctors.

White House officials debated that question and decided to make the not-entirely-true promise anyway, understanding that it was a bit of a fudge. They believed it was necessary for the law to be passed. “If you like your plan, you can probably keep it,” wouldn’t have helped sell the law, one anonymous administration adviser told The Wall Street Journal last year.

That wasn’t the first time had looked into making keep-your-plan-and-doctor health reform promises either. Roughly two decades earlier, officials in the Clinton administration had gone in the same rhetorical direction. But a recently unearthed 1994 White House memo from the era found one adviser warning about the problems that could arise from making such an unkeepable promise.

“It’s one thing to say we’ll preserve your option to pick the doctor of your choice (recognizing that this will cost more), it’s quite another to appear to promise the nation that everyone will get to pick the doctor of his or her choice. And that’s exactly what this line does. I am very worried about getting skewered for over-promising here on something we know full well we won’t deliver.”

In other words, it’s not clear if the law would have passed without the promise. On the other hand, it’s probably the source of some of the law’s public opinion struggles today.

If you’re trying to understand why the law has consistently struggled in the court of public opinion, this is almost certainly part of the answer: The law that was passed isn’t the law that was promised, and the public doesn’t like the difference and resents being misled.