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Oh, for crying out loud. Here's Bill Clinton, quoted in a semi-clueless AP news dispatch today:

Adding pressure to fix the administration's problem-plagued health care program, former President Bill Clinton says President Barack Obama should find a way to let people keep their health coverage, even if it means changing the law.

Clinton says Obama should "honor the commitment that the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they got."

Clinton urged Obama "to live up to a promise he made repeatedly, declaring that the if Americans liked their health care coverage, they would be able to keep it under the new law," according to the AP.

Small problem with that: It wasn't Obama who kicked those people off their coverage, and it isn't in Obama's power to single-handedly fix that, in all likelihood. Nor for that matter, was "Obamacare" a law that the president somehow imposed unilaterally, even though wingnuts fantasize that the law was somehow dictatorially imposed.

The main culprit in the cancellations has been a group of ever-so wonderful "free market" private insurance companies, which seemingly found a loophole in the Affordable Care Act. They have sent out cancellation notices to millions of their customers holding deliberately crappy, sub-standard plans.

The Care Act banned plans that didn't meet the act's elevated, minimum-coverage requirements, but some such plans existing before the act went into effect were grandfathered. So no problem, in theory. Ah, but insurers realized they could for awhile keep selling such plans without ever intending to elevate their coverage when the law so required it. Instead, they have canceled the plans and have tried to steer customers into other, often more expensive plans. They did this even though the association representing these and other insurers pledged that the industry would work in good faith to bring their policies into line with the act. And then, Lucy pulled the football away just before Charlie Brown could kick it. Auggghhh.

As it turns out, in extracting compromises from lawmakers, the insurers were really just interested in posturing and getting the best reform law possible, if only from their standpoint. Afterward, they went back on their word and did the opposite, actively undermining the law. Heck, one major insurer in California that in hearings touted the positives of the insurance marketplaces unexpectedly dropped out of the marketplaces at the last minute. Oops! Gotcha! See And it wasn't the only one. Government shutdown, supposedly caused by Obama? Now we have a private-insurance shutdown, supposedly caused by Obama.

None of this makes sense, from the standpoint of both actual history and better, more affordable health care, but it makes lots of sense from the political and economic standpoint of a manipulative group of businesses trying to maximize their profits and retain maximum control over "their" markets. And, yes, these are the characters we are still relying upon to provide better service than do the demonstrably superior single-payer programs in other developed countries (and here, too, in the case of Medicare).

Ironically, we now have Republicans -- and even a few Democrats -- insisting that this is  Obama's problem because he "promised" that people could keep their plans if they liked them -- a wishful overstatement, at least, but hardly a surprising one, given that almost everyone in on the action, including Republicans and journalists, knew all along the law isn't that sweeping and that no amount of administrative rule-making alone could make it that way.

Nevertheless, the naysayers and even allies like Bill Clinton now say Obama should "allow" these unfortunates to retain their crappy policies. That's a whole lot of stupid. Obama can't "allow" something the law enacted by Congress doesn't permit. He can engage in rhetoric and even make misstatements, but that doesn't make him a dictator, although Republicans would like you think of him that way.

Below the orange pill, the key elements of stupid in this little kabuki theater:

ONE, Clinton knows what's going on so he should know better than to tweak Obama on this. He's rightfully worried about the political fallout from perceptions fostered by Republicans and their pundit friends. But he could express those reservations to the president, in private. Piling on does not help the cause.

TWO , it isn't Obama's law. It's only perceived that way because the GOP has sought to collar the president with the burning tire of "Obamacare." Fact is, the president sought health care reform as a general policy matter, as have many Democratic presidents before him. Then, after months of acrimonious debate, Congress was finally able to cobble together the Affordable Care Act, borrowing from mostly conservative ideas presented by Republicans in the past. It was a mash-up of ideas but not ideal because it depends on the very private, mostly for-profit insurers who have gummed up health care and contributed to soaring costs. This current dust-up is thus a classic case of political ju jitsu, making underinformed citizens think Obama somehow wrote this law himself and forced it upon the Congress and everyone else. And the many other positives of the law are almost completely obscured by this one relatively minor problem, engineered by two-faced insurers to embarrass the president, reduce support for the law and still line their pockets.

THREE, Republicans calling for a fix are being completely disingenuous. They have championed the very private sector that has issued all these policy cancellations yet now they effectively argue it's the government's fault that these insurers are operating so much like the "free market" Republicans believe in. If Obama (who, legally speaking, probably can't unilaterally fix this) does manage to come up with an administrative way to help people keep cancelled policies, Republicans would immediately jump on that as an abuse of executive power and yet another affront to "freedom." But if Obama instead came to Congress with a proposed fix, you can bet Republicans would vote en masse against it. After all, they're not really interested in making the health care system work better; they're interested in scoring points against the Democratic Party, period.

FOUR, Mandating by law that these canceled plans be allowed to continue is arguably not only more regulatory, it would seriously undermine health care reform, a main purpose of which is to lower the nation's spending on health care by making it more efficient and truly competitive. Some of these junk plans may be rather better than others and even, in some cases, plans that buyers for unaccountable personal reasons happen to like. And in some cases, some people facing cancellation will have trouble affording better plans from the insurance marketplaces (they have to be better, by law). But a true fix would not re-animate this class of low-end plans that, on the whole, has done little to promote better health yet cost Americans way too much. A true fix would be to expand requirements in the Affordable Care Act that everyone should have access to insurance that fits their pocket book, and plans that actually deliver real benefits.

FIVE, The furor over these canceled plans ignores the truth that one of the main reasons we needed health care reform in this country was the widespread practice among insurers of gouging policyholders and denying them coverage almost at will; worse, customers who were canceled had a hard if not impossible time finding alternate coverage. One of the ACA's primary purposes was to end these transgressions. It does so; not in 100 percent of cases, but that's only because Republicans and blue dog Democrats forced compromises that limited the law's breadth and scope. Half a loaf is better than none, however, so Obama signed the law and it's going to help tens of millions of individuals, eventually.

So if Republicans truly want health care that helps absolutely everyone, they should stop the bullshit and roll up their sleeves. Going back to the old system is not only impossible but unhelpful. But further, meaningful reform from the GOP is also unlikely, because the party was instrumental in seeing that "Obamacare" would not be the ideal solution. And they won't waver from that obstinence now, as clear-eyed voters already know. The perfect is the enemy of the good.

ADDENDUM: Ezra Klein over at the Washington Post looks at Clinton's advice and adds this lovely little truth: "The irony of Bill Clinton coming out to advise that Obamacare be changed — somehow — to let everyone keep their current plans is that he's the reason Obama made the disastrous promise in the first place." See his entire piece here

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