Did Obama lie about healthcare reform or just omit a crucial detail?

Either way, President Obama apologized to people whose insurance was canceled despite his repeated assurances they could keep it.

President Obama apologized last week to people whose health insurance was canceled despite his repeated assurances that if you like your policy, it won't change.

The charitable way of putting it is that Obama oversold details of the healthcare-reform law in his speeches.

His critics say he flat-out lied.

This wouldn't even be an issue if Obama had qualified his remarks simply by adding that you'd be able to keep your insurance as long as it meets minimum standards for coverage, which is a big part of what Obamacare is all about.

Here's the thing, though: The rules of the road for healthcare reform have been — and remain — a moving target. For months, not even insurers have known what their requirements would be.

Rick Lashbrook's experience with Anthem Blue Cross bears that out.

Lashbrook, 42, of Manhattan Beach, is an independent film producer. He's had an individual policy with Anthem for about 10 years.

In March, Lashbrook saw that his premium was approaching $1,000 a month for a family of four, so he asked an Anthem sales rep if there was a cheaper plan for his needs.

The rep recommended a plan with a monthly rate of $577. Sounded good, Lashbrook thought, but he was concerned that it might not comply with the Affordable Care Act and thus wouldn't be any good after Jan. 1.

The Anthem rep replied by email: "Yes, it is compliant. You don't have to change."

There it is, in writing.

In September, however, Lashbrook received a notice from Anthem saying that his new plan was being canceled because it didn't comply with the reform law. The insurer recommended that he turn instead to a plan with a monthly premium of about $750.

"I don't think they acted in bad faith," Lashbrook told me when I asked whether he thought Anthem had lied to him. "It's unfortunate that this happened, but the plan obviously didn't meet the standards of the new law."

Darrel Ng, an Anthem spokesman, said the sales rep never should have vouched for a plan's Obamacare compliance.

"While the understanding of the Affordable Care Act's impacts continued to evolve as federal and state authorities issued guidance and regulations over the last three years, our sales associate should not have made that assurance," he said.

It's not my intent to excuse Anthem — or Obama — for misleading people about healthcare reform.

This is hard stuff, and consumers are trying their best to make informed decisions about the right move for themselves and their families. Any time they receive bad info, no matter how well-intended, that only complicates things.

But did anyone seriously believe that a law this complex would be rolled out in pristine condition?

"Clearly we should have been expecting some bumps and bruises along the way," said Dana Goldman, director of USC's Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics. "You can't reform 16% of the economy and get it right the first time."

The president misspoke in singing the reform law's praises. But the sin here is one of omission — that there would be minimum standards for acceptable policies — not of spreading a blatant falsehood.

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