Sourcing the Lie

Herndon Alliance promoted untrue Obamacare promises through last year


A group that coordinated health care messaging among scores of top Obamacare advocates repeatedly pushed the false Democratic promise that all Americans could keep their health insurance plans and doctors under the law and continued to do so as late as last year.

The Herndon Alliance was one of the most prominent Democratic messaging organizations during the legislative fight over Obamacare. It pushed talking points to a who’s who of liberal groups that support the law.

The Center for American Progress, the AARP, the Service Employees International Union, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and are all listed among the group’s 176 partners.

Herndon has repeatedly advised those groups and individuals through talking points memos posted on its website to promise American health care consumers that Obamacare will not disrupt their health care or health insurance.

“When President Barack Obama says Americans can maintain their ‘choice’ of doctors and insurance plans, he is using a Herndon strategy for wringing fear out of a system overhaul,” Politico noted in a 2009 piece on the group.

However, recent events have shown those talking points are false. Millions of Americans are receiving cancelation notices from insurance companies whose plans do not meet Obamacare’s minimum coverage requirements.

An analysis by McClatchy found that as many as 52 million Americans could lose, or already have lost, their pre-Obamacare insurance plans.

Insurers are also reducing the number of doctors in their networks due to Obamacare regulations, belying promises by Obama and congressional Democrats that, as the president claimed, “if you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period.”

The speech in which Obama made that promise earned the president Herndon’s “best messaging of the week award” in June 2009.

“It was the best messaging we’ve seen on specific health reform issues,” wrote Herndon Alliance executive director Bob Crittenden.

“For those who have questions about how to talk about the complex issues that surround health care reform they need to look no further than the president’s words—they are spot on,” Crittenden insisted.

Herndon pushed the same talking points to liberal groups and individuals throughout the health care debate.

A June memo laid out an “effective message frame to counter attack,” advising Obamacare proponents to promise that the law would “give you the freedom of choice to keep your current plan including keeping your current doctor.”

Another memo described “a template for responses” and claimed, “Reform will give us the freedom of secure choices—to keep our plan and doctors.”

The group continued to tout those talking points through early 2012, insisting in one talking points memo on Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges that they “offers plans that allow you to keep your doctors” and that they are “voluntary; if you like what you have you can keep it.”

Administration officials knew as early as June 2010 that as many as 93 million Americans could lose their health insurance under the law, according to Manhattan Institute health policy expert Avik Roy.

Herndon fully understood how important the preservation of existing insurance plans would be in propping up public opinion of the law.

“Guarantees of coverage, including keeping your current doctor, are the strongest testing features of an exchange,” noted survey results published last year on its website, referring to Obamacare’s health insurance marketplaces.

Herndon did not respond to requests for comment on its repeated promotion of what appear to be false talking points.

Those talking points helped shape the rhetorical and political cases for passing Obamacare in March 2010. The group is “someone that everybody talks to, that everybody listens to,” AARP told Politico.

“The research from 2006 to 2007 was fundamental to helping shape our view of how to talk about health care and, generally, how progressives and Democrats talk about health care,” a spokesman for the Obamacare-supporting umbrella group Health Care for America Now remarked.

Herndon’s annual revenue shot above $1 million during and directly after the health care debate, but has since declined to under $600,000, according to annual IRS filings.

Some of the county’s most prominent left-wing foundations have supported the group, including the Tides Foundation and billionaire liberal moneyman George Soros’ Open Society Institute.

Additional support has come from the California Endowment, the Public Welfare Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Bauman Family Foundation, the Missouri Foundation for Health, the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

Lachlan Markay   Email | Full Bio | RSS
Lachlan Markay is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He comes to the Beacon from the Heritage Foundation, where he was the conservative think tank's first investigative reporter. He was also a contributing editor for His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, and the Washington Examiner. He graduated from Hamilton College in 2009, and currently lives in Washington, D.C. His Twitter handle is @lachlan. His email address is

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