WASHINGTON — President Obama apologized Thursday to Americans who are losing their health insurance despite his repeated promises that they wouldn’t, an unusual act of contrition for a president who has come under heavy criticism for misleading the public.
“I am sorry that they, you know, are finding themselves in this situation, based on assurances they got from me,” Obama said in an interview with NBC News. “We’ve got to work hard to make sure that they know we hear them and that we’re going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this.”
The president said he had asked his staff to see whether there was an administrative fix to preserve insurance for some Americans who may have lost their coverage and do not qualify for subsidies that would make new policies affordable. “I’ve assigned my team to see what we can do to close some of the holes and gaps in the law,” he said.
The problem has arisen for those who buy insurance on the individual marketplace, a number that totals between 12 million and 15 million people. About half of those are probably being adversely affected by the Affordable Care Act, said an administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
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Thursday’s apology, coming at a time the president and his administration are under intense criticism over the rollout of the health-care law, highlights the extent to which it has become a political liability. On Tuesday, Obama’s approval rating dipped below 40 percent for the first time in two years, according to a daily tracking poll by Gallup.
That Obama had said repeatedly insured Americans would not have to change plans has become a new line of attack for congressional Republicans and an Internet meme, as news organizations have strung together video clips of the president’s comments on the subject over the past four years.
The disconnect between Obama’s assurances and the reality for some consumers emerged last month as a flood of people learned they could not keep plans they had signed up for on the individual market.
Although this group represents a small fraction of the total number of insured Americans — about 5 percent — their stories garnered national attention and provided fodder to opponents of the law.
Obama defended the law several times during the NBC interview, saying many of the people now receiving cancellation notices were in “subpar plans” and would probably benefit from new options, although they aren’t able to see them now because of continued problems with the website HealthCare.gov.
Although the president apologized for the fact that “we weren’t as clear as we needed to be in terms of the changes that were taking place,” he only did so after Chuck Todd, NBC’s chief White House correspondent, pressed him on the point.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., introduced legislation this week to force insurance companies to reissue the health plans they have been canceling by the thousands. And officials in several states have sought assurances from insurance companies that people will not be dropped until the federal health-insurance website is working.
The president did not endorse those specific efforts and did not elaborate on how he intended to help people who were faced with paying higher premiums for a new insurance plan.
Obama said in the interview that he was “deeply frustrated” by the technical problems surrounding the website.
He also defended Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, from attacks by Republicans who have called for her to resign.
He dodged questions about whether he might accept a delay in implementing parts of his health-care law if the website was still not working by the end of this month. The administration has said that the online portal would be working for most people by then.
Material from The New York Times is included in this report.