Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Politics & Government

Obama On Health Law Problems: 'I Feel Deeply Responsible'


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

Two fumbles on a big game. That's how President Obama described the rollout of his signature health care law today. Over the last six weeks, people who want insurance have struggled to sign up through the new federal website. And people on the individual market who were promised they could keep their plans have learned that the president's assurances came with a lot of fine print.

SIEGEL: At the White House this afternoon, the president spent almost an hour taking questions from reporters about the law's shortcomings and his plans to fix them. He also announced a proposal to help people who were losing their insurance on the individual market. We'll hear more about that in a moment from NPR's Julie Rovner. First, here's White House Correspondent Ari Shapiro on a very contrite President Obama.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: During President Obama's five years in office, he says at times he's been slapped around unjustly. This time, he says, he deserves the American people's frustration and anger.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And I think it's legitimate for them to expect me to have to win back some credibility on this health care law, in particular, and on a whole range of these issues in general.

SHAPIRO: This session in the White House briefing room was full of mea culpas, both general and specific. On his repeated false promise that everyone who likes their health insurance policy could keep it, Obama said the law has a grandfather clause for existing plans, which he thought would work.

OBAMA: And it didn't. And, again, that's on us, which is why we're - that's on me. And that's why I'm trying to fix it.

SHAPIRO: He acknowledged that the people losing their existing health plans are not his only big problem. Obama also spent months before the rollout promising that would be as simple to use as Amazon or Kayak. And then the website failed.

OBAMA: Had I been informed, I wouldn't be going out saying, boy, this is going to be great. You know, I'm accused of a lot of things, but I don't think I'm stupid enough to go around saying this is going to be like shopping on Amazon or Travelocity a week before the website opens if I thought that it wasn't going to work.

SHAPIRO: Another hard lesson of these last six weeks, Obama now says even when the website runs smoothly...

OBAMA: Buying health insurance is never going to be like buying a song on iTunes. You know, it's just a much more complicated transaction.

SHAPIRO: Obama said he's been doing a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking on how this could have gone differently but he acknowledged that doesn't help us now. Now, public confidence in him is as low as it's ever been. His legacy could depend on how this turns out. And Democrats in Congress who are up for re-election fear they could lose their jobs next year. Obama accepted blame for that, too.

OBAMA: I feel deeply responsible for making it harder for them rather than easier for them to continue to promote the core values that I think led them to support this thing in the first place.

SHAPIRO: That apology may not be enough. In Congress tomorrow, House Democrats are likely to face a vote on legislation to undercut part of the law. For Republicans, this debacle is a gift, a welcome change of subject from the government shutdown that did so much damage to their own party. At the Capitol today, House Speaker John Boehner said the White House's assurances are not worth much.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: Promise after promise from this administration turned out to be not true. So when it comes to this health care law, the White House doesn't have much credibility. And let's be clear, the only way to fully protect the American people is to scrap this law once and for all.

SHAPIRO: Back at the White House, Obama said despite everything that's gone wrong, he does not regret pursuing universal health care.

OBAMA: We can't lose sight of the fact that the status quo before the Affordable Care Act was not working at all. If the health care system had been working fine and everybody had high-quality health insurance or - at affordable prices, I wouldn't have made it a priority.

SHAPIRO: He said, I make no apologies for us taking it on. I do make apologies for not having executed it better. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.