Raleigh, N.C. — As Americans for Prosperity kicked off the unofficial start of political ad fact-checking season for the 2014 elections with a commercial focused on the Affordable Care Act, it's worth going back to note what might be considered the original fib of the health care debate.
Appropriately, it was committed by President Barack Obama himself, who repeatedly told Americans that, if they like their current insurance, they would be able to keep it.
"Now, the way we have approached it is that, if you've got health care under a private plan, if your employer provides you health care or you buy your own health care and you're happy with it, you won't have to change," Obama said during one 2009 appearance, making a claim he would go on to repeat many times and in many different ways.
Both CBS' and NBC's national news teams have been reporting this week that administration officials knew this claim was a stretch. But the idea that everyone would keep their health insurance has been called into question publicly since 2009, the year before Congress passed the Affordable Care Act.
The fact-checking website PolitiFact noted in an August 2009 piece that there was lot that was simply unknown about what shape the final bill would take. Kyle Wingfield, a conservative commentator for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, pointed out in July of 2009 that legislation before Congress at the time would have required people to change plans.
Also in 2009, writers at FactCheck.org focused mainly on how employers might behave once the new health care law rolled out. The site pointed to a Congressional Budget Office estimate that "in 2016, about 3 million people (including spouses and dependents of workers) who would be covered by an employment-based plan under current law would not have an offer of coverage under one draft of the health care law."
What all that says is that the president and his supporters were writing rhetorical checks they could never cash a year before the law passed.
At this point, we still don't know exactly how businesses will react to mandates that they cover their employees or pay a tax penalty. That's because the Obama administration pushed back the effective date of the "employer mandate" until 2015.
But some Americans did find out for sure this month they will have to change insurance policies. These are largely people who buy low-premium individual insurance policy plans that don't meet the requirements for insurance policies laid out by the health care law. The law requires "minimum essential services" that a health plan must provide, even if it is primarily designed to be used only in case of catastrophic illness.
"Health plans are sending hundreds of thousands of cancellation letters to people who buy their own coverage, frustrating some consumers who want to keep what they have and forcing others to buy more costly policies," Kaiser Health News reported.
The Associated Press, citing the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, reported in May that many carriers would opt to cancel policies this fall and issue new ones. Administratively, that was seen as easier than changing existing plans to comply with the new law, which mandates coverage of more services and provides better financial protection against catastrophic illnesses.
Those who have gotten those notices say they feel misled by the president, and it would be hard to argue in any realistic way that the president has been able to keep his pledge.