WASHINGTON - Seeking to calm a growing furor, President Barack Obama said Thursday he's sorry Americans are losing health insurance plans he repeatedly said they could keep under his signature health care law. But the president stopped short of apologizing for making those promises in the first place.
"I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me," he said in an interview with NBC News.
Signaling possible tweaks to the law, Obama said his administration was working to close "some of the holes and gaps" that were causing millions of Americans to get cancellation letters. Officials said he was referring to fixes the administration can make on its own, not legislative options some congressional lawmakers have proposed.
In this Oct. 30 file photo, President Barack Obama speaks at Boston's historic Faneuil Hall about the federal health care law. Obama says he's sorry Americans are losing health insurance plans he repeatedly said they could keep under his signature health care law.
"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," Obama said.
The president's apology comes as the White House tries to combat a cascade of troubles surrounding the rollout of the health care law often referred to as "Obamacare." The healthcare.gov website that was supposed to be an easy portal for Americans to purchase insurance has been riddled by technical issues. And with at least 3.5 million Americans receiving cancellation notices from their insurance companies, there's new scrutiny aimed at the way the president tried to sell the law to the public in the first place.
In Thursday's interview, Obama took broader responsibility for the health care woes than in his previous comments about the rollout, declaring that if the law isn't working "it's my job to get it fixed."
"When you've got a health care rollout that is as important to the country and to me as this is and it doesn't work like a charm, that's my fault," he said.
Some Republicans, who remain fierce opponents of the law three years after it won congressional approval, appeared unmoved by Obama's mea culpa.
"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," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement.
In recent days, focus has intensified on the president's promise that Americans who liked their insurance coverage would be able to keep it. He repeated the line often, both as the bill was being debated in Congress and after it was signed into law.
But the health care law itself made that promise almost impossible to keep. It mandated that insurance coverage must meet certain standards and that policies falling short of those standards would no longer be valid unless they were grandfathered, meaning some policies were always expected to disappear.
The White House says under those guidelines, fewer than 5 percent of Americans will have to change their coverage. But in a nation of more than 300 million people, 5 percent is about 15 million people.
Officials argue that those forced to change plans will end up with better coverage and that subsidies offered by the government will help offset any increased costs.