Debunking 4 Obamacare myths: Both sides get it wrong

Tom Cohen | 11/6/2013, 5 a.m.
For four years, we've witnessed a non-stop political brawl over Obamacare.
Obamacare navigator Jekisha Elliot helps Geremen Teklehaimanot sign up for health insurance in Baltimore Jen Christensen/CNN

— For four years, we've witnessed a non-stop political brawl over Obamacare.

Now rhetoric has again reached a fever pitch since the botched October 1 launch of the new insurance exchanges at the heart of President Barack Obama's signature health care reforms.

While Obama and Democrats scramble to reassure supporters and a skeptical nation that the dysfunctional Obamacare website can be fixed and the reforms will work, Republican opponents seize every opportunity to attack the 2010 Affordable Care Act they consider to be big government run amok.

Not surprisingly, such partisan back-and-forth has generated persistent myths about Obamacare that foment confusion, if not outright ignorance, about the reforms. In other cases, both sides try to quickly exploit newer issues.

Here is an attempt to debunk some of them:

1. If you like your plan, you can keep your plan

Let's start with the obvious -- Obama's oft-repeated pledge in selling the reforms that they wouldn't require people to change health coverage or doctors.

While the administration depends on a technicality to explain what Obama meant -- he was referring only to individually owned policies already in place back in March 2010 when the Affordable Care Act became law -- it was misleading when he started saying it back in 2008 and definitely is false today.

Yes, anyone with an individual policy dating back more than three years can keep it, as long as it hasn't been changed by the insurance company.

However, that is unlikely in the volatile individual market that comprises about 5% of Americans, a relatively small group compared to the 80% who get coverage through their jobs or government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Instead, at least 1 million individual policy holders have received letters from their insurers in recent months informing them that their plans are being discontinued at the end of the year or changed to cost more. The reason cited is added benefits required by Obamacare.

"The fact that the president sold it on a basis that was not true has undermined the foundation of his second term," former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who lost to Obama in last year's presidential election, told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

Obama and his aides argue the President kept his word by including a "grandfather" provision that allowed people to keep their plans from before the health care law was passed, as long as the policies hadn't been changed by the insurance companies.

At the same time, they contend most policies no longer eligible for the "grandfather" provision -- and therefore being canceled by insurers -- offered substandard coverage, leaving people at risk of bankruptcy for hospitalization or other major medical needs.

"If you have or had one of these plans before the Affordable Care Act came into law and you really like that plan, what we said was you could keep it if it hasn't changed since the law was passed," Obama told supporters on Monday night.