WASHINGTON -- President Obama said on Thursday that he is sorry that some Americans are losing their current health insurance plans as a result of the Affordable Care Act, despite his oft-repeated assurances that Americans could keep their insurance plans if they like them.
The comments, which Obama made in an interview with NBC News, come as he faces a steady stream of criticism as millions of Americans on the individual insurance market received notices that their plans do not meet the minimum benefit requirements set under the ACA and will be canceled.
"I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me," Obama said. "We've got to work hard to make sure that they know we hear them and we are going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this."
Earlier this week at a health care summit hosted by alumni of his two presidential campaigns, Obama added some verbiage to his declaration "if you like your current insurance, you keep that insurance" that was a standard part of his public pitch on his signature health care legislation dating to 2009.
"Now, if you had one of these plans before the Affordable Care Act came into law and you really liked that plan, what we said was you can keep it if it hasn't changed since the law passed," Obama said in the speech to supporters.
Obama's comments to NBC mark a significant change in tone following more than a week of his aides resisting suggestions that the president misled Americans.
Administration officials have stressed it should be no surprise that a slice of the 5% of U.S. consumers who are on the individual insurance market would be forced to switch plans as a result of insurance providers dealing with meeting the minimum benefit requirement established under the law.
But while Obama trumpeted the ability of Americans to keep their insurance if they already had it, less emphasized was the reality that some insurers providing bare-bones coverage prior to the full implementation of the law would be forced to phase out such policies.
Obama said in the interview that most of those who are receiving cancellation notices were paying for "sub par" plans and the intention was to get Americans improved coverage at the same or cheaper rates. And the president insisted that over the long term, the minimum benefit standards set by the ACA will prove beneficial to consumers.
"But in this transition, you know, there are going to be folks who get a cancellation letter, especially when a website's not working," said Obama, who suggested that he will explore administrative action to help assist some of those who received cancellation notices. "They're looking and saying, 'What am I going to do now?'"
The bottom line, Obama added: "We were not as clear as we needed to be about the changes that were taking place," Obama said.
Obama also said he is "confident" that the glitch-plagued HealthCare.gov, the online exchange serving 36 states, will be vastly improved by the end of the month.
"I'm confident that it will be even better by November 30th and that the majority of people are going to be able to get on there," Obama said. "They're going to be able to enroll. They're going to be able to apply. And they're going to get a good deal -- a better deal than they've got right now when it comes to buying health insurance."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., dismissed the apology, and called on Obama to embrace a bipartisan legislative effort in the Senate that would allow those getting cancellation notices to retain their coverage.
"If the president is truly sorry for breaking his promises to the American people, he'll do more than just issue a half-hearted apology on TV," McConnell said in a statement.