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President will Delay Expirations; President Obama Gives Speech and Answers Questions

Aired November 14, 2013 - 12:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to the breaking news coverage we're following here in Washington. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting.

We're about to hear from the president of the United States. He's about to make a dramatic announcement, a so-called fix to the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, that would delay, at least for one year, 2014, the requirement that folks lose some of their health insurance plans, even though they may have liked those health insurance plans. The president will be walking in momentarily.

Dana Bash, very quickly as we await the president, give us the big headline that he will announce.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The headline he will announce is that they are asking insurance companies to tell people who are in the individual market that got cancellation policy notices that they can keep their plans for up to one year, but only if the insurance companies tell these consumers that there are other alternatives out there and that the benefits in these policies will be not up to snuff, are not as good as what is now required in the Obamacare law. There will also be an out for state insurance commissions. That is the gist of what we have been told that the president will announce.

Very interesting, Wolf, that the House speaker used his regularly scheduled press conference just a short while ago, we took it live here, to kind of have a pre-buttal of what the president said. And one of the things that he noted was that American people, he said, don't trust -- they don't trust the White House anymore to make this administrative fix. And that was interesting for a lot of reasons, but mostly because he sees the polling, just like everybody else does, is that the president's polling is dipping in a lot of areas, but mostly, and maybe most concerning, in the area of trust and character.

And I think that is a big reason why tomorrow, even though Democrats want the administration to do this administratively, they want them to do it without the need of a bill to pass Congress and go to the president's desk, they are still going to offer an alternative on the floor of the House of Representatives tomorrow so that Democrats can go back to their constituents and they don't have to explain to the (INAUDIBLE) --

BLITZER: All right, hold on, Dana. Hold on. Dana, hold on. Here is the president.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Today, I want to update the American people on our efforts to implement and improve the Affordable Care Act, and I'll take a couple of your questions.

But before I do, I just want to say a few words about the tragedy that's unfolded in the Philippines. Over the past few days, I think all of us have been shaken by the images of the devastation brought by Typhoon Haiyan. It's a heartbreaking reminder of how fragile life is, and among the dead are several Americans.

So our prayers are with the Filipino people and with Filipino- Americans across our country who are anxious about their family and friends back home.

One of our core principles is, when friends are in trouble, America helps. As I told President Aquino earlier this week, the United States will continue to offer whatever military assistance we can.

Our military personnel and USAID team do this better than anybody in the world, and they've been already on the ground working tirelessly to deliver food, water, medicine, shelter and to help with airlift.

Today the Aircraft Carrier USS George Washington and other ships arrived to help with search-and-rescue, as well as supplies, medical care and logistical support, and more help is on the way

America's strength of course has always been more than just about what our government can do. It's also about what our citizens can do. It's about the big heartedness of the American people when they see other folks in trouble. So today I would encourage everybody who wants to help to visit


And that will offer you links to organizations that are working on the ground and ways that you can support their efforts. Our friends in the Philippines will face a long hard road ahead, but they'll continue to have a friend and partner in the United States of America.

Now, switching gears, it has now been six weeks since the Affordable Care Act's new marketplaces opened for business. I think it's fair to say that the roll-out has been tough so far, and I think everybody understands that I'm not happy about the fact that the roll- out has been, you know, wrought with a whole range of problems that I've been deeply concerned about.

But today, I want to talk about what we know after these first few weeks and what we're doing to implement and improve the law. Yesterday, the White House announced that in the first month more than 100,000 Americans successfully enrolled in new insurance plans.

Is that as high a number as we'd like? Absolutely not.

But, it does mean that people want affordable health care. The problems of the website have prevented too many Americans from completing the enrollment process, and that's on us, not on them. But there's no question that there's real demand for quality affordable health insurance.

In the first month, nearly a million people successfully completed an application for themselves or their families, those applications represent more than 1.5 million people. Of those 1.5 million, 106,000 of them have successfully signed up to get covered. Another 396,000 have the ability to gain access to Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

That's been less reported on, but it shouldn't be. Americans who are having a difficult time, who are poor, many of them working, may have a disability -- they're Americans like everybody else. And the fact that they are now able to get insurance is going to be critically important.

Later today, I'll be in Ohio where Governor Kasich, a Republican, has expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. And as many as 275,000 Ohioans will ultimately be better off because of it. And if every governor followed suit, another 5.4 million Americans could gain access to health care next year.

So the bottom line is in just one month, despite all the problems that we've seen with the website, more than 500,000 Americans could know the security of health care by January 1st, many of them for the first time in their lives. And that's life-changing and it's significant.

That still leaves about 1 million Americans who successfully made it through the website, now qualified by insurance, but haven't picked a plan yet. And there's no question that if the website were working as it's supposed to, that number would be much higher of people who've actually enrolled. So that's problem number one, making sure that the website works the way it's supposed to.

It's gotten a lot better over the last few weeks than it was on the first day, but we're working 24/7 to get it working for the vast majority of Americans in a smooth, consistent way.

The other problem that has received a lot of attention concerns Americans who've received letters from their insurers that they may be losing the plans they bought in the old individual market, often because they no longer meet the law's requirements to cover basic benefits like prescription drugs or doctor's visits.

Now, as I indicated earlier, I completely get how upsetting this can be for a lot of Americans, particularly after assurances they heard from me that if they had a plan that they liked, they could keep it.

And to those Americans, I hear you loud and clear. I said that I would do everything we can to fix this problem, and today I'm offering an idea that will help do it.

Already, people who have plans that pre-date the Affordable Care Act can keep those plans, if they haven't changed. That was already in the law. That's what's called a grandfather clause. It was included in the law.

Today we're gonna extend that principle both to people whose plans have changed since the law took effect and to people who bought plans since the law took effect.

So state insurance commissioners still have the power to decide what plans can and can't be sold in their states, but the bottom line is insurers can extend current plans that would otherwise be canceled into 2014, and Americans whose plans have been canceled can choose to re-enroll in the same kind of plan.

We're also requiring insurers to extend current plans to inform their customers about two things. One, that protections -- what protections these renewed plans don't include. Number two, that the marketplace offers new options with better coverage and tax credits that might help you bring down the cost.

So if you received one of these letters, I'd encourage you to take a look at the marketplace. Even if the website isn't working as smoothly as it should be for everybody yet, the plan comparison tool that lets you browse costs for new plans near you is working just fine.

Now, this fix won't solve every problem for every person. But it's gonna help a lot of people. Doing more will require work with Congress. And I've said from the beginning, I'm willing to work with Democrats and Republicans to fix problems as they arise. This is an example of what I was talking about. We can always make this law work better.

It is important to understand, though, that the old individual market was not working well. And it's important that we don't pretend that somehow that's a place worth going back to. Too often, it works fine, as long as you stay healthy. It doesn't work well when you're sick.

So year after year, Americans were routinely exposed to financial ruin or denied coverage due to minor pre-existing conditions or dropped from coverage altogether, even if they paid their premiums on time. That's one of the reasons we pursued this reform in the first place. And that's why I will not accept proposals that are just another brazen attempt to undermine or repeal the overall law and drag us back into a broken system.

We will continue to make the case -- even the folks who choose to keep their own plans -- that they should shop around in the new marketplace, because there's a good chance that they'll be able to buy better insurance at lower cost.

So we're going to do everything we can to help the Americans who've received these cancellation notices. But I also want everybody to remember, there are still 40 million Americans who don't have health insurance at all. I'm not going to walk away from 40 million people who have the chance to get health insurance for the first time, and I'm not going to walk away from something that has helped the cost of health care grow at its slowest rate in 50 years.

So we're at the opening weeks of the project to build a better health care system for everybody, a system that will offer real financial security and peace of mind to millions of Americans. It is a complex process. There are all kinds of challenges. I'm sure there will be additional challenges that come up. And it's important that we're honest and straightforward in terms, when we come up with a problem with these reforms and these laws, that we address them.

But we've got to move forward on this. It took 100 years for us to even get to the point where we could start talking about and implementing a law to make sure everybody's got health insurance. And my pledge to the American people is, is that we're going to solve the problems that are there, we're going to get it right, and the Affordable Care Act is going to work for the American people.

So with that, I'm going to take your questions, and I'm going to start with Julie Pace of A.P.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. The combination of the website problems and the concerns over the policy cancellations has sparked a lot of worry within your own party. And polls also show that you're taking some hits with the public on both your overall job approval rating and also on factors like trust and honesty. Do you feel as though the flawed health care roll-out has led to a breach in the public trust and confidence in government? And if so, how do you plan to resolve that?

OBAMA: There is no doubt that people are frustrated. We just came out of a shutdown, and the possibility that, for the first time in over 200 years, we wouldn't pay our bills. And people breathed a sigh of relief when that finally got done. And the next thing they know is, is that the president's health care reform can't get the website to work and that there are these other problems with respect to cancellation notices.

And, you know, I understand why folks are frustrated. I would be, too, because sometimes, you know, people look at what's taking place in Washington and they say, "Not enough is getting done that helps me with my life." And, you know, regardless of what Congress does, ultimately I'm the president of the United States and they expect me to do something about it.

So in terms how I intend to approach it, I'm just going to keep on working as hard as I can around the priorities that I think the American people care about. 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.

And, you know, that -- that's on me. I mean, we fumbled the roll-out on this health care law. There're a whole bunch of things about it that are working really well, which people didn't notice, all right, because they weren't controversial. So making sure kids could stay on their parents' plans 'til they -- up through the age of 25; or making sure that seniors got more discounts on their prescription drugs. There were a whole bunch of stuff that we did well over the first three years.

But we always knew that these marketplaces creating a place where people can shop and through competition get a better deal for the health insurance that their families need, we always knew that was going to be complicated and that everybody was going to be paying a lot of attention to it. And we should have done a better job getting that right on day one -- not on day 28 or on day 40.

I am confident that by -- by the time we look back on this next year that people are gonna say, 'This is working well,' and it's helping a lot of people.

But my intention in terms of winning back the confidence of the American people is just to work as hard as I can, identify the problems that we've got, make sure that we're fixing them, whether it's a (ph) website, whether it is making sure that folks who got these cancellation notices get help. We're just gonna keep on chipping away at this until the job is done.

Major Garrett?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

You said while the law was being debated, "If you like your plan, you can keep it." You said after the law was implemented or signed, "If you like your plan, you can keep it." Americans believed you, sir, when you said that to them over and over.

Do you not believe, sir, the American people deserve a deeper, more transparent accountability from you as to why you said that over and over, when your own statistics published in the Federal Register alerted your policy staff, and I presume you, to the fact that millions of Americans would in fact probably fall into the very gap you're trying to administratively fix now? That's one question.

Second question...


You were -- you were informed, or several people in this building were informed two weeks before the launch of the website that it was failing the most basic tests internally. And yet a decision was made to launch the website on October 1st. Did you, sir, make that test? And if so, did you regret that?

OBAMA: OK, on the website, I was not informed correctly that the website would not be working the way it was supposed to. 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.

So clearly, we and I did not have enough awareness about the problems in the website. Even a week into it, the thinking was that these were some glitches that would be fixed with patches, as opposed to some broader systemic problems that took much longer to fix and we're still working on them.

So, you know, that doesn't excuse the fact that it does not work, but I think it's fair to say that no, Garrett -- Major, we would not have rolled out something knowing very well that it wasn't going to work the way it was supposed to, given all the scrutiny that we knew was gonna be on -- on the website.

With respect to the pledge you made that if you like your plan you can keep it. I think -- you know, and I've said in interviews that there is no doubt that the way I put that forward, unequivocally, ended up not being accurate. It was not because of my intention not to deliver on that commitment and that promise. We put a grandfather clause into the law, but it was insufficient.

Keep in my mind that the individual market accounts for 5 percent of the population. So when I said you can keep your health care, I'm -- you know, I'm looking at folks who've got employer based health care. I'm looking at folks who've got Medicare and Medicaid. And that accounts for the vast majority of Americans.

And then for people who don't have any health insurance at all, obviously, that didn't apply. My commitment to them was, you're gonna be able to get affordable health care for the first time.

You have an individual market that accounts for about 5 percent of the population, and our working assumption was -- my working assumption was that the majority of those folks would find better policies at lower costs or the same costs in the marketplaces, and that there -- the -- the universe of folks who potentially would not find a better deal in the marketplaces the grandfather clause would work sufficiently for them.

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. And as I said earlier, I guess, last week -- and I will repeat -- that's something I deeply regret, because it's scary getting a cancellation notice.

Now, it is important to understand that out of that population, typically, there is constant churn in that market. This market is not very stable and reliable for people.

So people have a lot of complaints when they're in that marketplace. As long as you're healthy, things seem to be going pretty good. And so, a lot of people think, "I've got pretty good insurance," until they get sick and then, suddenly, they look at the fine print and they've got a $50,000 out-of-pocket expense that they can't pay. We know that on average over the last decade, each year, premiums in that individual market would go up an average of 15 percent a year. I know that because when we were talking about health care reform, one of the complaints was, I bought health care in the individual market, and I just got a notice from the insurer, they dropped me after I had an illness, or my premiums skyrocketed by 20 percent or 30 percent. Why aren't we doing something about this?

So part of what our goal has been is to make sure that that individual market is stable and fair and has the kind of consumer protections that make sure that people don't get a rude surprise when they really need health insurance.

But if you just got a cancellation notice and so far you're thinking my prices are pretty good, you haven't been sick, and it fits your budget, and now you get this notice, you're gonna be worried about it.

And if the insurer's saying the reason you're getting this notice is because of the Affordable Care Act, then you're gonna be understandably aggravated about it.

Now, for a big portion of those people, the truth is they might have gotten a notice saying we're jacking up your rates by 30 percent. They might have said from here on out, we're not gonna cover X,Y and Z illnesses.

We're changing -- because these were all 12-month policies. The insurance companies were under no obligation to renew the exact same policies that you had before.

But look, one of the things I understood when we decided to reform the health insurance market, part of the reason why it hasn't been done before and it's very difficult to do is that anything that's going on that's tough in the health care market, if you initiated a reform, can be attributed to your law.

And -- and so what we want to do is to be able to say to these folks, you know what, the Affordable Care Act is not going to be the reason why insurers have to cancel your plan. Now, what folks may find is, the insurance companies may still come back and say, "We want to charge you 20 percent more than we did last year," or, "We're not going to cover prescription drugs now." But that will -- that's in the nature of the market that existed earlier.

QUESTION: Did you decide, sir, that the simple declaration was something the American people could handle, but this nuanced answer you just gave now was something they couldn't handle and you didn't trust the American people with the fuller truth?

OBAMA: No. I think, as I said earlier, Major, my expectation was that for 98 percent of the American people either it genuinely wouldn't change at all or they'd be pleasantly surprised with the options in the marketplace and that the grandfather clause would cover the rest. That proved not to be the case. And that's on me. And the American people -- those who got cancellation notices do deserve and have received an apology from me.

But they don't want just words. What they want is whether we can make sure that they are in a better place and that we meet that commitment. And, by the way, I think it's very important for me to note that, you know, there are a whole bunch of folks up in Congress and others who made this statement and they were entirely sincere about it.

And the fact that you've got this -- this percentage of people who've had this, you know, impact, I want them to know that, you know, their senator or congressman, they were making representations based on what I told them and what this White House and our, you know, administrative staff told them. And so it's not on them; it's on us. But it is something that we intend to fix.


QUESTION: Do you have reason to believe that Iran would walk away from nuclear talks if Congress draws up new sanctions? And would that -- would a diplomatic breakdown at this stage leave you no option for military action? And how do you respond to your critics on the Hill who say that it was only tough sanctions that got Iran to the table, only tougher sanctions will make them capitulate?

OBAMA: Well, let me make a couple of points. Number one, I've said before and I will repeat, we do not want Iran having nuclear weapons. And it would be not only dangerous to us and our allies, but it would be destabilizing to the entire region and could trigger a nuclear arms race that would make life much more dangerous for all of us. So our policy is: Iran cannot have nuclear weapons. And I'm leaving all options on the table to make sure that we meet that goal.

Point number two, the reason we've got such vigorous sanctions is because I and my administration put in place when I came into office the international structure to have the most effective sanctions ever.

So I think it's fair to say that I know a little bit about sanctions since we set 'em up and made sure that we mobilized the entire international community so that there weren't a lot of loopholes and they really have bite.

And the intention in setting up those sanctions always was to bring the Iranians to the table so that we can resolve this issue peacefully, because that is my preference. That's my preference because any armed conflict has costs to it, but it's also my preference because the best way to ensure that a country does not have nuclear weapons is that they are making a decision not to have nuclear weapons and we're in a position to verify that they don't have nuclear weapons.

So as a consequence of the sanctions that we put in place -- and I appreciate all the help, bipartisan help that we received from Congress in making that happen -- Iran's economy has been crippled. They had a negative 5 percent growth rate last year. Their currency plummeted. They're having significant problems in just the day-to-day economy on the ground in Iran. And President Rouhani made a decision that he was prepared to come and have a conversation with the international community about what they could do to solve this problem with us.

We've now had a series of conversations. And it has never been realistic that we would resolve the entire problem all at once. What we have done is seen the possibility of an agreement in which Iran would halt advances on its program, that it would dilute some of the highly enriched uranium that makes it easier for them to potentially produce a weapon; that they are subjecting themselves to much more vigorous inspections so that we know exactly what they're doing at all their various facilities; and that would then provide time and space for us to test over a certain period of months whether or not they are prepared to actually resolve this issue to the satisfaction of the international community, making us confident that in fact they're not pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

In return, the basic structure of what's been talked about, although not completed, is that we would provide very modest relief at the margins of the sanctions that we've set up. But importantly, we would leave in place the core sanctions that are most effective and have most impact on the Iranian economy, specifically oil sanctions and sanctions with respect to banks and financing.

And what that gives us is the opportunity to test how serious are they, but it also gives us an assurance that if it turns out six months from now that they're not serious, we can crank -- we can dial those sanctions right back up.

So my message to Congress has been that let's see if this short-term, phase-one deal can be completed to our satisfaction where we're absolutely certain that while we're talking to the Iranians, they're not busy advancing their program. We can buy some additional months in terms of their breakout capacity.

Let's test how willing they are to actually resolve this diplomatically and peacefully. We will have lost nothing if, at the end of the day, it turns out that they are not prepared to provide the international community the hard proof and assurances necessary for us to know that they're not pursuing a nuclear weapon. And if that's - turns out to be the case, then not only is our entire sanctions infrastructure still in place, not only are they still losing money from the fact that they can't sell their oil and get revenues from their oil as easily, even throughout these talks, but other options remain.