Topics: Obamacare

Politifact defends blown Obamacare keep-your-coverage rulings

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Politifact editor Angie Holan declined to respond to my questions about whether the fact-checking organization still stands by its earlier blown calls on whether everyone would be able to keep their health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. She has, however, defended the ruling in a column today on the Poynter Institute's website.

To recap: In six separate columns between 2008 and 2012, Politifact weighed in on President Obama's claim. Not once did Politifact accurately call it false.

Politifact's harshest judgment was that Obama's claim was "half true." In fact, millions are estimated to lose their health insurance due to Obamacare.

I asked Holan twice via email if Politifact still believes the columns were accurate. Holan sent me a link rounding up Politifact's more recent columns on the subject but declined to respond directly to my question.

She did address her critics midway through her Poynter column, "How to fact-check the health care law," though. She said:

At PolitiFact, we found 10 things Obamacare supporters say that aren’t entirely true.

Obama said that if you liked your health care you can keep it, and the cancellation notices that have gone out to people in the individual market directly contradict his statement.

But Obama wasn’t entirely off-base, either. It was a way of letting people know that his plan wasn’t a single-payer, Canadian-style proposal. People who get their insurance through work, for example, get to keep their plans to the same extent that they did before the health care law — that is, they’re subject to changes their employers decide to make. People on Medicare are left alone, for the most part. We get regular criticism whenever we rate a statement Half True, but in a complicated world, it’s often the right call.

The health care law touched almost every part of the health care system, in ways both major and minor. It’s hard to make sweeping generalizations.

This makes no logical sense. If Obama's promise had a virtue, it was that it was straightforward and unambiguous to the point where it could only be either true or false. That's why Obama made it: He wanted to sell his proposal and knew that any ambiguity would undermine the sale.

As the Wall Street Journal reported, Obama's top aides specifically ruled out a more honest approach: "Officials worried, though, that delving into details such as the small number of people who might lose insurance could be confusing and would clutter the president's message ... The former official added that in the midst of a hard-fought political debate 'if you like your plan, you can probably keep it' isn't a salable point."

Holan tried to justify Obama's comment as "half true" because employers might make changes to their employees' plans.

But those employers are making the changes as a direct result of Obamacare. To say this absolves Obama of any responsibility for his comment isn't fact-checking the president, it is spinning for him.

In a column Thursday for its new Punditfact website, editor Aaron Sharockman claimed Obama's were making too much out of all this: "Opponents of the law are so obsessed that they have consistently overstated attacks against the health care law, and they are guilty of oversimplifying Obama's original 'if you like it' promise."

I feel sorry for Politifact's readers. They were let down twice. First, by the president and then by the people they trusted to keep him honest.

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