"Unbelievably complex": President Trump tells GOP governors he may have underestimated Obamacare

"Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated," Trump said Monday in a meeting with health care CEOs

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published February 27, 2017 5:55PM (EST)

 (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Ahead of his first address to a joint session of Congress on the issue of the Affordable Care Act, President Donald Trump met with some of the nation's largest health insurers and Republican governors from across the nation on Monday. With political reporters in the room and national television cameras recording, Trump admitted to both groups that since taking office he's been stunned by the complexity of major health care reform — despite his repeated campaign claims that he would have a "terrific" replacement plan for Obamacare.

"Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated," Trump insisted to the National Governors Association members who were in Washington for their annual conference, demonstrating an ignorance of the challenges previously articulated by his predecessor, Barack Obama, and his campaign rival, Hillary Clinton — not to mention nearly every health care policy expert and politician on either side of the aisle.

"I have to tell you, it's an unbelievably complex subject," Trump continued. “We’re going to be talking about it tomorrow night during the speech. I think you’ll like what you hear.”

Trump told the gathered Republican executives that he hoped to overhaul the American tax system but that was a "tiny little ant" compared with what he would need to do to remake the Affordable Care Act.

"Obamacare has failed," Trump said earlier in his remarks, later adding, "As soon as we touch it . . . they're going to say 'it's the Republicans problem.' That's the way it is. But we have to do what's right because Obamacare is a failed disaster."

The president argued that "it’s only getting worse" and that 2017 will be "a catastrophic year." A newly released poll, however, shows that Obamacare recently hit an all-time high in favorability among U.S. voters.

"There's nothing to love, it's a disaster, folks. OK? So you have to remember that," Trump told the Republican governors.

Trump has repeatedly called the Affordable Care Act a "disaster" and has vowed to replace it "with something much better, much better and much less expensive."

Later on Monday at a meeting with executives from UnitedHealth, Aetna, Cigna, Humana, Anthem, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Kaiser Permanente, Trump said his replacement plan will give states more flexibility "to make the end result really, really good for them." Previously, Trump has said the White House has no specific replacement plan and will leave the drafting of legislation to GOP congressional leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“I’m asking [Health] Secretary [Tom] Price to work with you to stabilize the insurance markets and to ensure a smooth transition to the new plan. The new plan will be a great plan for the patients, for the people and hopefully for the companies. Going to be a very competitive plan. And costs will come down and I think the health care will go up very, very substantially,” Trump said. “We’ve taken the best of everything we could take.”

Added Trump: "If things aren't working out, I'm blaming you anyway."

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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