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Senate Democrats Struggle to Defend Health Insurance Promises

6:46 PM, Oct 29, 2013 • By JOHN MCCORMACK and MICHAEL WARREN
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As he stepped off an escalator leading from the Capitol's underground subway system to the U.S. Senate, Ron Johnson opened up a yellow folder, pulled out a copy of the “If You Like Your Health Plan, You Can Keep It Act," and handed it to fellow senator Chris Coons.

Capitol

"I look forward to reading this," said Coons, a Democrat from Delaware.

"It's the president's exact language," replied Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin.

Johnson was, of course, referring to President Obama's pledge that Americans who like their health insurance could keep it under Obamacare, a pledge that has proven untrue for millions of Americans who are losing their current insurance policies because they don't comply with Obamacare.

As Johnson and Coons entered a senators-only elevator, the Democrat was asked by THE WEEKLY STANDARD if Americans should be able to keep the plans they had in 2013. Coons shrugged his shoulders a little bit, while Johnson enthusiastically responded, "Absolutely!"

Johnson's bill, which will be introduced on Wednesday, could put Democrats in a tough spot. Asked Tuesday to explain the news that millions of Americans were losing their insurance policies, contrary to the president's promise, Senate Democrats responded with a mixture of denials, evasions, and historical revisionism. Nearly all refused to say if they opposed Johnson's bill.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire expressed shock that so many Americans are losing their current plans. "We knew that they would need to sign up again, but obviously I don’t think anybody thought people would be kicked off their health insurance plan,” said Shaheen, who refused to say if Americans should be able to keep the plans they had in 2013.

"He didn't say anything wrong," Senate majority leader Harry Reid said when asked about Obama's promise. "That was true."

According to Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Democrats had only promised that Americans could keep their insurance if it was "good insurance."

"We said when we passed that, 'If you had insurance that was good insurance that you wanted to keep it, you could keep it,'" Landrieu said.

She declined to say if she would support a measure to let Americans keep the plans they had in 2013. "I haven't looked at it specifically," Landrieu said.

"We can look at that," said Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. "That's something we can look at."

When asked if Americans should be able to keep their current plans, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin would only say, "What I'm understanding is that people, like in Florida, are getting advice on transitioning and hopefully they'll have a higher quality, lower-cost plan." 

Many Senate Democrats tried to avoid answering questions about the president's broken health insurance promise. Senators Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas (both of whom are up for reelection next year) held their cell phones against their ears when approached for questions. Mark Warner of Virginia simply scoffed and walked away when asked if Americans should be allowed to keep their current health plans. Oregon senator Ron Wyden asked if we could talk later.

Others blamed the insurance companies.

"Insurance companies cancel insurance policies. That's what they do," said Reid.

"You should talk to the insurance companies if they’re dropping people," said Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. "The idea here is to have affordable insurance to people that don’t have it."

"I think whenever possible, they should be able to keep their plan," Klobuchar finally admitted.

"I don't think there's any surprises yet," said Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland of reports of insurance cancellations.  

"The free market did not change," Cardin added. "The ability of an insurance carrier or employer to maintain their plans was there, and some are taking other actions."

Cardin was the only senator asked by TWS to flatly reject the measure to let people keep the plans they had in 2013.  "I think it's just too early to look at changes for 2014," he said.

One senator was not willing to cede the point that many Americans would be losing their current health insurance plans. When asked if those folks who like their plans should be able to keep it, Jon Tester, Democrat from Montana, responded, “I think your premise is wrong.”

What was wrong with the premise? “You said millions of people lost their health care,” Tester responded.

What about news reports saying as much?

“They’re wrong,” Tester said. He continued, “I think what we’ve got is we’ve got a current system that we’re moving out of that has a whole bunch of people who don’t have insurance. We’re going to try to get them insurance.”

So was President Obama wrong when he said Americans could keep their insurance if they like it? Tester didn’t say.

“Shut the door,” he told the Capitol elevator operator. “I didn’t pick that up.”

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