Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 10/28/13
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:16 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, thanks for being here. I hope you had a great weekend. The Red Sox won last night, in case you missed it. Heck of a series.
Q Jonny Gomes.
MR. CARNEY: Jonny Gomes. How about that. And Uehara -- the whole team. Very exciting for baseball fans everywhere.
Q What did you think of Saturday’s game?
MR. CARNEY: Saturday’s game was not as good. (Laughter.)
Before I take your questions, a couple of announcements. First off, tomorrow, the President will meet with CEOs from the financial, energy, defense, and information technology sectors to discuss cybersecurity and the implementation of the President’s Executive Order 13636 on improving critical infrastructure cybersecurity. This meeting is part of the administration’s ongoing dialogue with the private sector on cybersecurity.
Second announcement -- this one is on a different subject. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced major savings for seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare following measures put in place by the Affordable Care Act to strengthen Medicare by slowing health care costs growth and saving money for Medicare beneficiaries.
Next year, premiums and deductibles for Medicare Part B, which covers items like physician visits, outpatient hospital services, and durable medical equipment, will not increase, seeing zero growth from 2013. In fact, the average growth of Part B premiums over the past five years was slower than nearly any other five-year period in the program’s history. And health care spending has grown more slowly in the past few years than it has since the 1960s -- half a century.
The health care law also reduces the doughnut hole each year and closes it completely by 2020. Today we learned that since the Affordable Care Act became law, more than 7.1 million seniors and people with disabilities saved $8.3 billion on their prescription drugs and the doughnut hole, an average of $1,167 per person.
And over the last four years, the stronger anti-fraud measures put in place by the Affordable Care Act have helped to recover nearly $15 billion for taxpayers. Affordable Care Act changes that pay hospitals and doctors based on the quality rather than the quantity of care they deliver for patients are beginning to have an effect. For example, hospital readmissions have started to drop after being stuck for years. These lower costs and better care are great news for the trust funds, great news for taxpayers, and really great news for people on Medicare.
With that, I will go to your questions. Josh.
Q Thanks, Jay. There’s a report out from the Wall Street Journal that says that the President did not learn until this summer that the NSA has been tapping Angela Merkel’s phone for years, as it had been with other world leaders. Was the President kept out of the loop about what the NSA was doing?
MR. CARNEY: Josh, what I can tell is you two things. First, that I’m not going to get into details of internal discussions. But the President clearly feels strongly about making sure that we are not just collecting information because we can, but because we should. And I noted the other day a readout from a phone call the President had with Chancellor Merkel made clear that we do not and will not monitor the Chancellor’s communications.
More broadly, I think it is worth stepping back and looking at a couple of things. Today’s world is highly interconnected, and the flow of large amounts of data is unprecedented. There are communications methods that we hadn’t even conceived of 10 years ago that we are adapting to, and we know innovation is going to continue. If we’re going to keep our citizens and our allies safe, we have to continue to stay ahead of these changes, and that’s what our intelligence community has been doing extraordinarily well.
These capabilities are part of the reason we’ve been able to foil numerous terrorist plots and adapt to a post-9/11 security environment. At the same time, with new capabilities we recognize that there need to be additional constraints on how we gather and use intelligence. And it’s in the context of this dynamic technology environment that the President has directed us to review our surveillance capabilities.
We’ve talked a little bit about this, and the President certainly has, but it’s good in the context of some of the stories that we’ve seen of late to remember that the President called for a review earlier in this summer. This review is being led by the White House, and it includes agencies from across the government. There are also important efforts underway that will enable others to review how we strike the right balance, including the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. Our review is looking across the board at our intelligence gathering to ensure that as we gather intelligence, we are properly accounting for both the security of our citizens and our allies, and the privacy concerns shared by Americans and citizens around the world.
We also need to ensure that our intelligence resources are most effectively supporting our foreign policy and national security objectives, that we are more effectively weighing the risks and rewards of our activities. And that includes ensuring that we are focused, above all, on threats to the American people. Once again, as you’ve heard the President say, we need to ensure that we are collecting information not just because we can, but because we should, because we need it for our security.
So again, I won’t go on too long, but I think that it’s important to contextualize some of these revelations, to look at what the administration is doing to review our intelligence activities, and to look at how we balance the need for security in this completely transformed world that we live in, because of the technology advances that have occurred, and then against, as I said earlier, the clear and real privacy concerns that Americans and people around the world share.
Q You just mentioned that it’s important for us to make sure that our intelligence gathering, above all, is about protecting Americans’ security. And you and the President in the past have talked about the NSA really being focused on things like terrorism, proliferation of WMDs. Can you assure our allies that the U.S. is not using the NSA’s intelligence capabilities to promote American economic interests?
MR. CARNEY: We do not use our intelligence capabilities for that purpose; we use it for security purposes, first of all. And second of all, it’s very important to recall, too, that we have extraordinarily strong and important intelligence and security relationships with our allies, and that those relationships are vital to help keep Americans safe, to help keep Americans safe abroad, and to help keep our allies safe. And that kind of relationship, those kinds of relationships are key to the security of this nation and of our allies.
So again, we’re conducting a review. We are mindful that some of these disclosures have caused tension in our relationships. We deal with those issues through diplomatic channels, and we are in direct communication with a number of countries on these matters. The President is very serious about, as you heard him say in August, ensuring that this review take place, that we strike that balance, that we remember that our intelligence services and the people in them do extraordinary work to keep us safe every day, and that we’re one attack away from assessments about what went wrong in our intelligence capabilities and collection.
So we need to remember that the gathering occurs for a purpose, and that’s why the review has to look at that issue that the President has identified; that just because we’ve made these extraordinary technological advances that give us greater capacities, we need to make sure that we’re collecting intelligence in a way that advances our security needs and that we don’t just do it because we can.
Q And, Jay, on Saturday, Secretary Sebelius held up the data services hub as an example of what was working well with healthcare.gov. On Sunday, the data hub crashed and took down the entire enrollment functionality with it. With new, major technical problems continuing to emerge, how should Americans be confident that these problems will be fixed, as you said, by the end of November?
MR. CARNEY: Josh, as you know, Verizon Terremark successfully resolved the issue with the networking component overnight, and as of 7:00 a.m. Eastern Time this morning, the data services hub was fully operational. The healthcare.gov technical team continued troubleshooting the issue with the online creation account process -- our account creation process in the application -- and has now opened the online application and enrollment tools back up to consumers.
So this was the host for the site that had troubles that led to the site shutting down. It is now up and running again.
Q But if there are new problems that are emerging separate from what we had already learned about in the first few weeks, doesn't that make it more likely that this all won’t be able to be resolved in the timeline you’ve set forward?
MR. CARNEY: No. Look, we have several teams, many teams of highly qualified experts who are addressing the identified and isolated problems that do exist and have existed with the website, and they are fixing them incrementally as Jeff Zients and others have talked about.
That work continues and the improvements are happening every day, and the consumer experience on the website will continue to improve every day incrementally as those changes are made. More changes have taken place that make the website more efficient and effective for consumers as we speak.
The separate issue of essentially the company that hosts the site having a trouble that caused it to shut down is not linked to the troubles that we are identifying and isolating and working on and fixing. So we’re glad to see that the site is up and running, that the issues have been resolved, and we’re obviously continuing the work of making improvements to the site as we make it more apparent to Americans across the country that there are four ways for them to get information, four ways for them to sign up, and four ways for them to enroll. And that's
-- in addition to online -- by phone, in person and by mail.
So this is work, as we’ve said, that comes about because the website from October 1st on has not functioned at the level that meets the President’s standards, has not functioned at the level that would meet the Secretary’s standards. And therefore, we have taken all these efforts to make the necessary improvements so that we can improve this experience.
What’s important to remember, too, however, is that from day one, Americans have been able to get information. Americans have been able to sign up, and they have been able to enroll. Because in the end, this isn’t about a website. It’s about making sure that millions of Americans have access to affordable health insurance, many of them for the first time.
Q The report that Josh mentioned, citing officials, made it sound as if the program had been underway for a number of years, and that when the President learned about it, he ordered it stopped. Does the President continue to have full confidence in General Alexander to administer security?
MR. CARNEY: The President has full confidence in General Alexander and the leadership at the NSA and in the rank-and-file at the NSA who do extraordinary work on behalf of every American citizen and on behalf of our allies in keeping them safe.
The issues that are part of the review look at how we can better balance our security needs and the security needs of our allies against the real privacy concerns that we all share. And as I noted at the top, there has been extraordinary change -- technological change -- in the last 10, 20 years, but certainly in the last 10 or so years since 9/11, that has affected the whole world in the way that we transmit and gather information. And that has brought about changes in the way -- and developments in the way that we gather intelligence. It’s obviously brought about changes in the way that those in the world who want to do harm to Americans and do harm to our allies operate.
So that has meant that we have had to adapt. And as we've adapted, and as we adapt, we need to make sure, as the President is insisting, that we are keeping a balance that protects our security and takes into account our real privacy concerns.
Q As I'm sure I don’t have to tell you, revelations of this eavesdropping or alleged eavesdropping have caused damage with our allies. When would you expect the reviews that you've talked about to be done? And would you expect them to include any scaling back of monitoring of phone conversations by our friends?
MR. CARNEY: The entire review that is being led by the White House will be completed by the end of the year. There are other efforts, as you know, underway by the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology, as well as the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. In tandem, the President also announced that the administration will work with Congress to pursue appropriate reforms of Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
And after having a dialogue with members of Congress and civil libertarians, the President believes that there are steps that can be taken to give the American people confidence that there are additional safeguards against abuse of these programs. For example, steps could be taken to put in place greater oversight, greater transparency, as well as constraints on the use of this authority. The administration is also working with Congress to improve the public's confidence in the oversight conducted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Moreover, the President has directed the intelligence community to make public as much information about these programs as possible. Mindful of the fact that these are very sensitive security programs, the administration has declassified unprecedented information about the activities of the NSA and we are continuing to do so.
So there are a number of efforts underway that are designed to increase transparency, to work with Congress to look at reforms to the Patriot Act, to look at ways that we can increase oversight and increase constraints on the authorities provided by these programs. Separately, there are ways -- there is a review underway that will look at, among other issues, some of the very specific things with regards to intelligence gathering, including matters that deal with heads of state and other governments.
So these are all important issues. And you've heard the President talk about them and I think reflect in what he said the fact that they're important in his view, and that we need to take these steps.
When it comes to the relationship that we have with various allies, this is obviously something that has been of concern, and we are working to address those concerns diplomatically, through diplomatic channels, and also in the way that we're talking about these issues now.
Q To just follow up, when you say constraints on using that authority, what do you mean?
MR. CARNEY: I'm saying that the programs are legal, obviously, through the Patriot Act, but that in these reviews that are underway, the President has talked about the fact that we could take steps perhaps to put in place greater oversight and transparency, and constraints on the use of this authority -- so ways to ensure that the programs both achieve what they were designed to achieve in terms of gathering intelligence that goes to the heart of protecting the United States and our people and our allies, but does so in a way that strikes a balance when it comes to matters of privacy and the other concerns that we share with Americans and others around the world.
Q Jay, back in September in Stockholm, the President said, ”I can give assurances to the publics in Europe and around the world that we’re not going around snooping at people’s emails or listening to their phone calls.” Presumably, that would include the German Chancellor. Is that statement still operative?
MR. CARNEY: Jim, what the President said was true, and what I can tell is what I’ve just said when it comes to the questions about communications involving Chancellor Merkel -- the fact that we do not and will not monitor those communications, and the broader fact that we are engaged in a review that will look at that issue and other issues through the lens of making sure that we are focused on using the tools available to us to gather intelligence that we need, not just gather intelligence because we can.
Q Because earlier in the summer he was sort of making the distinction about U.S. persons --
MR. CARNEY: I think you’re conflating a couple of programs when it comes to emails. There are different programs and metadata programs, and there’s --
Q There were times when he said, we’re not listening in on your phone calls, and I can assure if you’re a U.S. person, we’re not listening in on your phone calls. I have the exact quotes --
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure what question you’re asking, because when it comes to matters of Section 215 and Section 202 702, they are very distinct when it comes to metadata versus other kinds of collection. They’re distinct. So the President, I think, in all that he has said about this issue -- not just since the disclosures, but even before them -- reflects his commitment to ensuring that we do everything we have to do within the law to keep America safe, keep Americans safe and keep our allies safe, but that we do so in a way that reflects the need to find a balance and that recognizes the sincere security -- I mean, rather, privacy concerns that Americans have and that others have around the world.
Q And the Wall Street Journal article that has been mentioned in this briefing, the main thrust of it is that the President was unaware that this kind of surveillance was going on of foreign leaders. In the interview that the President gave with -- and speaking of conflating, I’m going to be grouping a couple of things here -- but in the interview with Sanjay Gupta with CNN, the President -- or excuse me, Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, said the President was not aware of the problems with the website before it launched on October 1st. I mean, even back when the IRS was an issue back in May ’13, the targeting of political groups, the President at that time said he learned about that through news reports. Is there a concern in the White House, Jay, is there a concern in the administration that the President is being kept in the dark on some of these issues, and that he’s only finding out about it in news reports?
MR. CARNEY: It’s certainly true that you’ve conflated a bunch of very disparate issues. The fact of the matter is that the President believes that the work being done by our intelligence services is important and that it is focused on, when it comes to the NSA, gathering foreign intelligence that is designed to help keep America safe and Americans safe, as well as our allies.
The President has also initiated a review because he believes that we need to look at the fact that the world has changed so much in the last 10 years in terms of the technological innovations that we’ve seen and the way that we communicate and the way that our enemies communicate, as well as the capacities and tools that we have available to us when it comes to gathering intelligence, and to basically run a review that looks at all of those issues and ensures two things: One, that our programs are designed to gather the intelligence that we need in order to protect ourselves and our allies, and that we are doing so mindful of the privacy concerns that we all share. So --
Q But is the President learning about the full scope of, say, the surveillance issues? Obviously, it seems he’s learning about the full scope of the Obamacare issues.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, Jim, can I just say -- as I said at the top, I’m not going to get into individual reports about specific programs. There are several reviews underway; there’s one that’s being run by the White House. And when those reviews, and specifically the White House review is complete, we will be able to share more information with you and provide a little more detail about the decisions that the President will make after the review is completed.
And I can say that as this review has been undertaken, some decisions have been made, even as the review has been underway and not completed. And those decisions are being made to improve our intelligence gathering operations in a way that is consistent with the balance the President believes is necessary to strike.
Q Republican critics are making the case, though, that the President appears to be in the dark about some pretty significant stories that are swirling around this White House.
MR. CARNEY: Well, Republican critics say a lot of things, Jim.
Q Jay, let me try it more broadly. It is conceivable, it is believable that the President would not know about surveillance of a head of state of a close American ally? I mean, does that sound plausible to you?
MR. CARNEY: I like the effort coming at this in a different way. And the Wall Street Journal probably doesn’t appreciate the suggestion that their story is wrong. But I would say simply that we’re not going to comment on specific activities reported in the press. We have made clear that the President spoke with Chancellor Merkel and assured her that we do not and will not collect intelligence on her communications.
The whole operation -- intelligence-gathering operation is under review by the White House, as well as by these other two bodies. And the purpose of those reviews is to look at what we do, to look at the tools and capabilities that we have, to look at how we go about the business of gathering intelligence in support of our security and in support of the security of our allies, and to then assess what we do versus the real privacy concerns that Americans and others share.
There’s no question that in the world that we live in that the rapidity of change in our technological capabilities has created possibilities when it comes to communications by those who would do us harm, as well as capabilities that we and others have when it comes to gathering intelligence that merit periodic review so we can make sure that we’re doing things in a way that reflects the balance the President seeks to strike.
Q I’m trying to get at this question of what the President should know about or be informed about. If U.S. intelligence is listening in on the phone calls of a close American ally, of if they had been doing such a thing, wouldn’t the President expect to be made aware of that? Would that be something that he would want to know about, feel he should know about?
MR. CARNEY: I think you can say safely from what the President has said in recent months about some of these issues that he is keenly interested in reviewing what we do, and in working with interested parties to ensure that we are doing it in a way that strikes a balance with the privacy concerns that Americans and others have.
The other piece of this that is important to remember is that the work that's being done here saves lives and protects the United States and protects our allies, and protects Americans stationed in very dangerous places around the world. So it should not be lost on anyone as we look at these issues, and they're real, and the concerns are understandable and merit being taken seriously, that we remember that purpose of these institutions and these programs, and the hard work that's done every day by those in the intelligence community who do this work on behalf of the American people.
Q But when you say something like that, the question that gets asked is: How is it possible that listening in on the phone calls of close American allies is saving lives?
MR. CARNEY: Jon, as much as I know you’d like me to respond to questions about specific reported operations, I’m simply not able to do that. What I can tell you is that the reviews that are underway are doing serious work. The White House review is going to be completed by the end of the year. And that even as that work is being done and that review is being conducted, some decisions have been made that reflect the President's desire to find that proper balance.
Q So when you said that we don't do it and we won't monitor, you're begging the question about of course whether we did. And when you say that we need to do this and it saves lives, you're still begging the question of do we need to do it the way it's been reported that it's been done and are we still doing it. Can't you come up with something better?
MR. CARNEY: Bill, what I can tell you is that I doubt there's little question in this room, or in kitchens and living rooms across the country, that the work done by our intelligence community is done in order to keep the American people safe and to protect our allies and to protect our troops abroad. And that's important work indeed. And it is often work done without recognition necessarily, because of the nature of the work and noticed at times only when something terrible happens. So that's important. So I appreciate the stipulation.
The fact of the matter is that I cannot and will not get involved in a colloquy about specific reported operations, past activities or even present activities. These reviews are underway. And we are, as part of that process, endeavoring to make available more information about what the NSA does and about the programs that have been discussed a lot of late. And we're also reviewing these programs, because the President believes it's very important that even as they work to keep America and Americans safe, that they do so in a way that reflects the sincere concerns about privacy that Americans have and that our allies have.
Q Are you going to make the reviews public?
MR. CARNEY: We will make the information public that we can make public, and we will be more transparent about this than has ever been the case in history. That is already true. We have released more information about what the NSA than has ever been released before. So the answer is, yes, mindful of the fact that we're talking about very sensitive programs that are secret for a reason or elements of which are secret for a reason.
Q Have you got anything on the EU meeting?
MR. CARNEY: Jon-Christopher, he stole your thunder. (Laughter.) I didn't think somebody else would be asking about the EU meetings.
A group of visiting EU parliamentarians will be in Washington early this week and will meet with officials from the Departments of State, Commerce, Treasury, Homeland Security, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Security Staff. These meetings are part of an ongoing U.S.-EU discussion of privacy issues.
Q Come on, they’re complaining.
MR. CARNEY: Look, we have been I think very forthright in acknowledging the tensions that these disclosures have caused. The President has talked about it. The Secretary of State has talked about it. National Security Advisors and others have talked about it. I've talked about it. And we are in discussions directly, as these meetings reflect, with countries that have been the subject of some of these disclosures, because we take their concerns seriously.
Q You're admitting that there have been disclosures, but you won't talk about the disclosures.
MR. CARNEY: Well, that's not necessarily the case, depending on the question that you're asking. But you also didn't note that what I'm saying is we're acknowledging the tension that this has caused. We understand that this has caused concern in countries that represent some of our closest relationships internationally. And we are working to allay those concerns and to discuss these issues, and we’ll continue to do so, because those relationships are so important for so many reasons, including for security reasons.
Q If I could switch to health care -- online right now, people are reacting to the top of the briefing by saying that when they log on to states who handle their own insurance exchanges they are seeing an improvement in their ability to log onto healthcare.gov. But in states who go through the federal exchange, they’re getting this sign that says the system is down, as you speak. So how can you say at 7:00 a.m. this morning it was all back up and running? How can people out there be confident?
MR CARNEY: Well, obviously, I’m not online right now, Ed, or with people who are emailing you. But what Verizon Terremark has announced is that they successfully resolved the issue with the networking component overnight, and as of 7:00 a.m. the data services hub was fully operational. I’m sure the people who are working --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I didn’t say that. I said that I’m sure the people who are working on this issue are addressing the kind of question you just raised if, in fact, that’s the case.
I think, more broadly, we have acknowledged that healthcare.gov has not performed adequately, and the President is not happy about that. Secretary Sebelius is not happy about that. And that is why we have dedicated these focused resources to fixing the existing problems and getting that site operating at a level that will allow millions of Americans to have the kind of user experience they deserve and need to have online when they are shopping for affordable health insurance and enrolling in affordable health insurance plans -- because that is the purpose here.
The purpose here is not to build the best possible website. The purpose of the website and the call-in centers and the in-person centers is to provide information to Americans about the health care choices available to them -- health care choices that were not available prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
Q On your point, beyond the website -- the President, when he was trying to get the law passed, repeatedly said, if you currently have health insurance you’ll be able to keep your plan. This morning, David Axelrod was pressed on that point and said the majority, the vast majority will get to keep their plans. He no longer works at the White House. From that podium, will you admit that when the President said, if you have a plan, you’ll get to keep it, that that was not true?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s just be clear. What the President said and what everybody said all along is that there are going to be changes brought about by the Affordable Care Act that create minimum standards of coverage -- minimum services that every insurance plan has to provide so that an individual shopping for insurance, when he or she purchases that insurance, knows that maternity care is covered, that preventative services are covered, that mental health services are covered, that the insurance policy you buy doesn’t have an annual limit or a lifetime limit, that there are out-of-pocket expenses capped at a maximum level both annually and for a lifetime.
So it’s true that there are existing health care plans on the individual market that don't meet those minimum standards and therefore do not qualify for the Affordable Care Act. There are some that can be grandfathered if people want to keep insurance that's substandard. But what is also true is that Americans who have insurance on the existing individual market will now have numerous options available to them, and 6 out of 10 will pay less than $100 per month in premiums for better insurance. It’s not even an apples-and-apples comparison.
This is qualitatively better insurance coverage than what was available in many cases to Americans around the country -- in an area of the insurance market, by the way, that so lightly regulated that you often didn’t know what you were getting. So you could sign an insurance policy, get that plan, pay a lot of upfront money, premiums, out-of-pocket expenses, and then find out that because of the fine print, it doesn’t cover the actual condition that you have. That will no longer be the case.
So I get what the effort here is, but the fact is, is that --
Q Well, the President said one thing and you're admitting that that's not going to be the case, that not everyone is going to keep their plan; they will, admittedly, wind up probably with better insurance in the long run, so they may be healthier. That should be said. But the President sold it as if you have a plan, you’ll get to keep it. And that's not true.
MR. CARNEY: Ed, I appreciate what you're trying to do. Eighty-plus percent of the American people already get insurance through their employer, through Medicare, through Medicaid. They don't have to worry about or do or change anything. Those remaining individuals who do not have insurance at all now will have it available to them through -- or don't have insurance at all or get it through the individual market will now have insurance available to them through expanded Medicaid services in those states that have accepted the expanded Medicaid program, as well as through the health care marketplaces.
And it’s correct -- I mean, I take your point -- it’s correct that substandard plans that don't provide minimum services that have a lot of fine print that leaves consumers in the lurch, often because of annual caps or lifetime caps or carve-outs for some preexisting conditions, those are no longer allowed -- because the Affordable Care Act is built on the premise that health care is not a privilege, it’s a right, and there should be minimum standards for the plans available to Americans across the country.
Q And last one. There was a woman on CBS this morning -- when you say it’s substandard and now people -- it will be better for them from a cost standpoint -- a 56-year-old woman in Florida on CBS this morning said she was paying $50 a month for health insurance; now it’s going to be $500 a month. And she said, “What I have right now is what I'm happy with. I just want to know why I can't keep what I have. Why do I have to be forced into something else?” What’s your response to that woman?
MR. CARNEY: Again, individual cases I cannot address. I don't know that woman’s particular circumstance. What is true is that subsidies are available to individuals that are not necessarily reflected if they just look at premium prices. Remember, even before the Affordable Care Act was rolled out on October 1st, premiums were published that were the level set prior to what you would be paying if you received a subsidy. And nearly 50 percent of the people we're talking about here would qualify for a subsidy.
Secondly, again, I don't know the individual experience, but the fact of the matter is millions of Americans are going to have available to them insurance coverage that they have never had and quality insurance that they’ve never had -- insurance coverage that does not either contain within it caps on your annual expenses that you missed in the small print, or caps on your lifetime expenses; or that covers mental health services rather than refuses to cover it; or provides -- doesn’t charge women double, which has often been the case; and provides maternity coverage as a basic element of even the lowest-level plans under the Affordable Care Act.
So I think that we’re going about the business of making sure that the information is available to millions of Americans across the country who have clearly expressed an interest in the fact that this coverage is available to them. And we’re going to work day by day to improve access to that information through the online site and through the other means available to Americans, because this is so important that Americans have this insurance available to them.
Q Jay, what percentage of individuals on the individual market will in fact lose their plan, or have to change or find a new plan?
MR. CARNEY: For that kind of question, I encourage you to participate in the regular briefings held at CMS. Again, I think that insurance companies that have existing products that do not meet minimum standards obviously cannot -- those products are not -- they don’t fit under the Affordable Care Act anymore. There’s a minimum level of insurance coverage that is part of even the most basic plans under the Affordable Care Act.
Those insurance companies -- and I think you’ve seen some executives speak about this from the various insurance companies -- are providing plans, similar plans with the additional coverage, basic coverage, but without the cap on lifetime expenses or annual expenses, without some of the other onerous aspects of plans in the individual market, that are now available to those folks who want to have insurance through the same provider that they have. Otherwise, obviously people can shop and find an even better deal, potentially, if they qualify for subsidies, or higher levels of coverage on a bronze, silver, gold or platinum plan.
Q So does the White House concede that there are winners and losers in this plan, including one individual we spoke to in North Carolina whose family, to keep the closest similar plan to the one they have now, will pay 430 percent more than their present plan?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t have, like, specifics from your networks --
Q Are there winners and losers?
MR. CARNEY: Peter, what I can tell you is that, overwhelmingly, people are going to have affordable health care available to them that wasn’t available before. And I understand that there are existing plans that are so barebones, they don’t provide adequate coverage -- they may have enormous premiums, they may have carve-outs for preexisting conditions, they may have lifetime and annual caps that their purchasers don’t even know about until they get the bill.
So it is not a fair comparison to compare those kinds of plans, which were part of the problem, to the basic-level insurance that’s provided under the Affordable Care Act.
Q A couple of questions, given the NSA story right now. Is the President still using his Blackberry?
MR. CARNEY: I have no change to announce in terms of the President’s communications.
Q So since he fought so hard to keep it when he became President in 2009, I guess I’m curious if there have been any changes made in terms of the precautions in place, the protections being taken right now to protect him from being surveilled by some other country.
MR. CARNEY: So you’re asking me about security precautions taken to protect the President’s communications from foreign surveillance?
Q I’m not asking for his phone number. I’m just saying that you say the intelligence-gathering process has changed over time, which has enabled us to keep up with it as we surveil foreign nations for information. So have we done things over the course of that time, adding precautions to protect the President’s own phone?
MR. CARNEY: I would address that question to the Secret Service.
Q Thank you. Has President Obama ever signed a finding requesting surveillance of a foreign leader or otherwise tasked the intelligence community to provide intelligence on foreign communications?
MR. CARNEY: I have no information to provide about specific reported intelligence activities. I can recite some of the answers I gave to prior questions, but you probably don't want me to do that. So --
Q I’ll keep going. I had a couple of others. In the interest of saving time, has the President’s PDF [sic] ever contained any information about those activities since President Obama took office?
MR. CARNEY: I think you mean PDB, and I think you mean the highly classified, sensitive document that -- (laughter) -- and briefing that might come in PDF form, but -- (laughter).
Q And if there was surveillance --
Q Or a PBJ.
MR. CARNEY: Might be served with a PB&J. Is that what you’re saying? (Laughter.) Okay, that's good.
Q If there were surveillance of at least 35 world leaders, can you tell us when he instructed that it stop against Chancellor Merkel and that it also stop against the other foreign leaders?
MR. CARNEY: Again, Margaret, I can speak to the specific issue of Germany and the Chancellor because of the conversation they had that I read out, and the assurances the President made to Chancellor Merkel. But I don't have anything more for you on specific reports about intelligence activities with regards to heads of state or other matters. These are issues, broadly speaking, that are under review. And as that review continues and comes to its conclusion at the end of the year -- even as it continues, there are decisions that are being made with regard to how we conduct our intelligence activities, and I’m sure more will be made as time goes on. And then when the review is concluded and the President has made some assessments, then we’ll provide as much information as we can about that and those decisions when we can.
Q I understand you can’t tell me details. I just want to make sure that we're all on the same question. So the Journal story suggests that the President didn’t know about it until he knew about it and then asked it to stop.
MR. CARNEY: I think it’s fair to say the President didn’t know about it until he knew about it. (Laughter.)
Q Okay. But just because he wasn’t briefed by General Alexander doesn’t mean that he didn’t know about it. Just to be clear, you’re saying that you’re not going to answer questions when the President knew that we were surveilling foreign leaders.
MR. CARNEY: About specific operations that have been reported in the press and when the President --
Q That makes it sound so vague. I mean, we’re actually talking about --
MR. CARNEY: No, I’m saying the specific -- I’m saying that I can’t talk about specific intelligence activities reported in the press. I can speak broadly about the issues that surround some of these reports and the review that has been underway in part because of these reports, and what the President believes we ought to seek as we do this review and what our goal ought to be in terms of the proper balance between the necessary surveillance that we must conduct, like other nations conduct, in order to protect Americans and the nation and our allies, and the privacy concerns that many of us have, understandably, both here and abroad.
Q But he may have very well known since January of 2009 that we tapped Angela Merkel’s phone and 35 other people’s. You’re just not saying yes or no right now because the position is that you’re not going to --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to address specific reported information. So, I mean, just imagine if you will -- set aside the specific nature of this report, and imagine any other potential, true or false, intelligence operation that might be reported in the press, and imagine whether or not I or any other official could discuss that openly like this.
So I think that the point is that we are very mindful of the concerns that have been raised by, in particular, our allies on some of these issues, and the President has had conversations and others have had conversations with their counterparts, and those conversations continue through the appropriate diplomatic channels. And then obviously when it comes to Germany, we made clear a piece of information as regards the President’s conversation with the Chancellor.
Julia, and then Chris.
Q So the President is going to Boston to talk about the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday. Can you talk a little about what he might say that’s any different from what he talked about in the Rose Garden? And more broadly --
MR. CARNEY: Are you trying to decide whether to make the trip? (Laughter.) It is Wednesday in Boston. I’m just saying.
Q I know, exciting. (Laughter.) But more broadly, how --
MR. CARNEY: Game six.
Q Is he going?
Q When will we know you will be going, is the question.
MR. CARNEY: No scheduling announcements to make. (Laughter.)
Q But is it a possibility?
Q Back to the ACA. In terms of more broadly what the White House is trying to communicate given that the website isn’t fully functional, the call centers are experiencing some problems, is there anything that you’re trying to communicate now that we have this understanding that you expect everything to be working smoothly by the end of November as opposed to in the next few weeks?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think when you say “everything,” I think we are being very specific about what we’re talking about, and that refers to the website.
I don’t want to preview in detail what the President will say in Boston. Obviously the central points about the importance of the Affordable Care Act and the insurance that will be available to millions of Americans because of it will remain. And while some of us in this room may feel like we’ve heard it before, millions of Americans out there are eager to find out more information, to hear from the President and hear from others about the fact that come January 1st, this insurance coverage will be available to them.
And for many of them, as I’ve said in the past, if you’re a breast cancer survivor, you’re a single mom and you’ve been priced out of affordable coverage because of your preexisting condition, or you are hanging on barely financially because of the extraordinary cost you have to pay because of your preexisting condition, January 1st is a very important day for you. And that story is replicated across the country, in the hundreds of thousands and millions even.
So the fundamental issues here don’t change. I think Massachusetts is an interesting place to visit because of the Massachusetts experience. As you know, Massachusetts implemented on a state level a program very similar to the Affordable Care Act. It had its own launch difficulties. It had I think some notable -- when it came to early enrollment issues, the figures are rather extraordinary in terms of what they initially saw -- I might have something on this -- in Massachusetts that is I think something worth keeping in mind when we look at the six-month enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act. And that is we know from experience that in Massachusetts, enrollment of healthy adults remained low until just before the deadline.
In the first month of what was known as Romneycare, 10,000 people signed up for plans with no premium and Medicaid, and only 123 people -- premium-paying enrollees -- signed up in the first month. So think about that: 10,000 Medicaid, 123 premium-paying enrollees in the first month. And think about that ratio, if you will, and imagine the stories that were probably generated at the time about how the whole thing was going to fail when, in fact, the opposite turned out to be true.
Q Thanks, Jay. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is announcing right now that he’s going to bring up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act for a vote in the Senate before Thanksgiving. In the coming weeks, will we see the President make the same public advocacy on ENDA that he’s done on other issues that he supports like comprehensive immigration reform?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you know the President’s position on this. He strongly believes that legislation like this needs to be passed and he wants to sign it. So we are very pleased with the progress we’ve seen as this legislation has moved in Congress. There’s obviously a lot of work still to be done, but he absolutely hopes and expects the Senate to act and pass this legislation and will encourage continued movement through the Congress.
Q There are a number of undecided senators on ENDA that, on the Democratic side, as of this morning, included Bill Nelson, Mark Pryor and Joe Manchin. Will the President reach out to these senators and make sure that they would support ENDA when it comes to the floor for a vote?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we want every senator to support it. I’m not going to lay out our legislative strategy for you, but it is something the President believes strongly is in the interests of the country to see turned into law.
Ari, and then Jon-Christopher.
Q It looks like the Barack Obama Twitter account was hacked apparently by the Syrian Free Army. Do you have any response?
MR. CARNEY: I do not. I will take the question.
Q Since Bill asked a joint question, I’d like to ask a question about Mr. Greenwald. He seems to be holding on to all the documentation that Mr. Snowden has been passing on to him. Is this administration considering any actions against Mr. Greenwald?
MR. CARNEY: I certainly know of none. I don’t have anything on that for you.
Q Thank you. This is the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. Can you do anything to accelerate aid to the victims? And is there concern about the new building guidelines, especially in vulnerable areas?
MR. CARNEY: I’m glad you mentioned the anniversary, because obviously it seems very long ago to those of us who were fortunate enough not to live in the path of Sandy, but for those who suffered because of that storm, the recovery effort is ongoing.
And what the President made clear from day one is that his administration would stand side-by-side with the victims of that terrible storm long after media attention shifted elsewhere. And I think that we have demonstrated that commitment throughout the past year, and it’s an ongoing commitment. And that includes the provision of aid as well as numerous other projects underway as part of the administration’s work with the affected states, in particular obviously New Jersey, in the wake of that terrible storm.
April, and then John.
Q Jay, going back to the spy program, when you say the President wants greater oversight, constraint, does that oversight mean extending tentacles into congressional oversight as well, since there is --
MR. CARNEY: Well, Congress already has a very important role to play when it comes to oversight of these various activities engaged under the sections of the Patriot Act that we’ve been discussing so often these past several months.
Q -- saying we don’t have enough.
MR. CARNEY: Well, these are issues that I think the President believes ought to be examined and looked at as we try to strike this balance between our very real security needs and our very real privacy concerns.
So there are different -- there’s obviously different kinds of oversight. There’s executive branch oversight, there’s FISA Court oversight, and there’s congressional oversight. And I think all of these elements of oversight can and will be looked at as part of a review.
Q All right. Also, when you talk about the NSA spy program you can’t help not to think about Snowden. What’s the latest on efforts to bring him back here to the United States to face some sort of punishment, jail time -- what?
MR. CARNEY: We continue to hold the position we held, which is that he ought to be returned to the United States to face trial, where he will be accorded all of the rights that are due defendants in our judicial system. And he has been charged with serious crimes here in the United States and ought to return to face those charges.
I don't have any new information to provide to you except to say that that is -- that our views on this are clear and expressed regularly in our conversations with government officials in Russia. So our position hasn’t changed. And we believe that it’s important to remember that our system of justice allows for the kind of rights and privileges that are unique in many ways, and especially by historic standards, and that he would be afforded all of those if he were to be returned or to return to the United States.
Q And one last question. A couple of months ago I asked you what makes this country different from Russia, especially now as we're seeing more and more information leaked and given out about the fact that there’s a vast spy program spying on everyone around the world and to include people in this country. The ACLU says what makes us different is our court system. What makes us different in the midst of all of this new information?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm sure that folks here don't have the time to listen to me wax poetic about what makes the United States different from any other countries when it comes to civil liberties and when it comes to transparency and when it comes to democratic practices. So I will refrain. But I think that the comparison in all three of those areas is pretty stark.
This very briefing is a reflection of -- and the kind of questions that are raised here and in response to press reports that might not be able to appear in so many countries around the world I think are a reflection of our system’s democracy and our system’s transparency.
Now, we grapple with these issues every day, as a nation, as we should. And we have, in this case, at the President’s direction, a review underway of intelligence programs and the collection programs with an aim to making sure that we are striking that balance that he thinks is important to strike, and that others do, too. He’s not unique in believing that. But he does, as Commander-in-Chief, also have a pretty unique insight into the dangers that confront the United States, the dangers that confront our allies, the threats that exist every day and that need to be met by our intelligence community and by our military and by others in our government, and by our allies.
So that is a pretty heavy piece of business, but it’s an important one. And this review is being undertaken at his direction because he thinks it’s very serious.
John. Last one, John.
Q Two things, if I can. The first -- Senator Graham has said that he will block nominations if more information and witnesses are not made available to talk about Benghazi. I wanted to get your reaction to that and whether the President is doing anything to either meet those demands or get Senator Graham to back off of that threat to block all nominations.
MR. CARNEY: Well, on the issue of nominations, we obviously believe very strongly that the Senate needs to move expeditiously to consider and confirm the many qualified presidential nominees whose nominations are pending.
When it comes to oversight and Benghazi, as you know, the administration has made extraordinary efforts to work with seven different congressional committees investigating what happened before, during and after the Benghazi attacks. That includes testifying at 13 congressional hearings, participating in 40 staff briefings, and providing over 25,000 pages of documents.
And just today, there are news accounts that I trust are accurate that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee collected hours of testimony from State Department employees who were in Libya on the evening of the attacks. Again, that's today.
The State Department has worked in good faith to meet the Hill’s many requests and they will continue to review legitimate incoming requests. But let’s be clear that some Republicans are choosing to play politics with this for partisan purposes, and we find that unfortunate.
What happened in Benghazi was a tragedy. It is absolutely the case that there was not adequate security for the individuals who lost their lives, for the Americans who were there on the ground. And it was the task of the Accountability Review Board set up by Secretary Clinton, approved by the President -- or with the President’s approval, chaired by Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen, to investigate issues especially around security and the inadequacy of the security at the facilities in Benghazi and to recommend steps that needed to be taken so that we can focus on the principal goal here, which is to ensure that adequate security is provided around the world where Americans are serving, often in harm’s way.
When it comes to I think the evident politicizing of Benghazi, it is as unfortunate today as it was last year and since then.
Q You said some Republicans are playing politics. Are you saying Senator Graham is?
MR. CARNEY: No, I'm not. I think that, in general, that has been the case. I saw what Senator Graham said. I think it's unfortunate to hold up any nominee or any nomination process. And when it comes to doing so for this reason, I think I've noted the considerable cooperation that the administration has provided on these issues, including -- again, if press reports are accurate -- the fact that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee collected hours of testimony from State Department employees who were in Libya on the evening of the attacks today. So that cooperation is ongoing.
Q And one on health care. I know everybody around here has talked about working to fix the website rather than to fix blame. But should the American people expect that a person, a set of people, a contractor, someone will be held accountable for this failure to get the program moving as it was designed to?
MR. CARNEY: I think that you're right that we're focused now on fixing the problems on the website, making the whole structure function as efficiently as possible for the millions of Americans who clearly desire information about their insurance options and who clearly want to enroll in various insurance plans.
We're not going to Monday-morning quarterback now. There's obviously a lot of time ahead to look back at this process. Right now, we're focused on making it work. I'm not making any statements about what that will look like in the future. Obviously, there's already congressional activity involved in oversight on these matters. We're focused on the goal here. The purpose and the goal was to provide affordable health insurance for millions of Americans who did not have affordable health insurance in the past, and we're continuing to focus on that goal.
Q The question is should the same quarterback or the same team start next week?
MR. CARNEY: What I would say to that is we have teams in place who helped build the system and who have obviously great insight into the system. We have added extra eyes and brains to those teams in order to accelerate the process of fixing the problems. And we think that's the right approach, because it -- again, if your goal is to make the website work for the American people as opposed to finding places to affix blame, then the approach we're taking is the right approach. And that's the approach we're taking, because we believe that health insurance is something that every American wants.
Thanks very much.
2:18 P.M. EDT
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