How Obama Explains Health Care: Football, Online Purchasing, and Cars

During a press conference Thursday, the president leaned heavily on metaphors to make his point.

President Obama throws a football at Soldier Field in Chicago.
National Journal
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Matt Vasilogambros
Nov. 14, 2013, 8:51 a.m.

The Af­ford­able Care Act adds up to about 10,000 pages, Health­Care.gov has been riddled with tech­nic­al glitches, and people are re­ceiv­ing can­cel­la­tion no­tices for their ex­ist­ing health care plans. Yes, the is­sue is com­plic­ated.

So, what’s one way to ease the con­fu­sion? Well, if you’re Pres­id­ent Obama, you could mix in a few com­par­is­ons or meta­phors.

Dur­ing a press con­fer­ence on Thursday, the pres­id­ent an­nounced his ad­min­is­tra­tion would al­low con­sumers to keep their ex­ist­ing, out­dated health care plans through 2014, provid­ing an easi­er trans­ition peri­od. Obama apo­lo­gized for the mix-up and for the stumbled rol­lout of the health care law.

To ex­plain, the pres­id­ent leaned on three main com­par­is­ons: foot­ball, on­line pur­chas­ing, and cars.

First, foot­ball. The pres­id­ent, an avid sports fan, said on sev­er­al oc­ca­sions that he and his ad­min­is­tra­tion “fumbled,” even call­ing him­self the cap­tain of the team.

And, you know, that’s on me. I mean, we fumbled the rol­lout on this health care law.

And you know, I am very frus­trated, but I’m also some­body who, if I fumble the ball, you know, I’m go­ing to wait un­til I get the next play, and then I’m go­ing to try to run as hard as I can and do right by the team. So, you know, ul­ti­mately I’m the head of this team. We did fumble the ball on it. And what I’m go­ing to do is make sure that we get it fixed.

So again, you know, these are two fumbles on something that — on a big game which — but the game’s not over.

Did that help ex­plain things? No? OK, how about on­line pur­chas­ing? Health­Care.gov is a com­plic­ated web­site that ex­per­i­enced some dif­fi­cult glitches. It’s not as easy to use, as say, Amazon.

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.

And you know, buy­ing health in­sur­ance is nev­er go­ing to be like buy­ing a song on iTunes. You know, it’s just a much more com­plic­ated trans­ac­tion.

Get it? Still con­fused? Fine, here’s an­oth­er com­par­is­on: cars. We all love cars. But re­mem­ber when they didn’t have seat belts? Well, that’s like health care plans without pro­tec­tions for preex­ist­ing con­di­tions.

We made a de­cision as a so­ci­ety that every car has to have a seat belt or air bags. And so you pass a reg­u­la­tion. And there’s some ad­di­tion­al cost, par­tic­u­larly at the start, of in­creas­ing the safety and pro­tec­tions, but we make a de­cision as a so­ci­ety that the costs are out­weighed by the be­ne­fits of all the lives that are saved. So what we’re say­ing now is if you’re buy­ing a new car, you got to have a seat belt. Well, the prob­lem with the grand­fath­er clause that we put in place is it’s al­most like we said to folks, you got to buy a new car, even if you can’t af­ford it right now. And soon­er or later folks are go­ing to start trad­ing in their old cars.

That cleared things up.

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