President Obama's repeated assertion that Americans content with their current health insurance can keep it doesn't include employees whose employers decide to drop their private plans for the government option.
Obama tried to squelch public uncertainty about the consequences of his overhaul by telling reporters at a prime-time news conference Wednesday that if Americans like their insurance plans they can keep them. He added that the reforms he's proposing add to the security and stability of existing plans.
"It will keep government out of health care decisions, giving you the option to keep your insurance if you're happy with it," Obama said.
But the president has been careful not to tread over the provisions of a massive health care reform bill that say private companies can decide at any time to elect a different health plan for their employees -- with or without the implementation of a public plan -- leaving employees forced to change their coverage.
In a June 23 interview with ABC News, Obama noted: "When I say if you have your plan and you like it, or you have a doctor and you like your doctor, that you don't have to change plans, what I'm saying is the government is not going to make you change plans under health reform."
On Thursday, Linda Douglass, communications director for the White House Office of Health Reform, said a number of mechanisms in the bills now floating through Congress discourage employers from dropping their private insurance policies for the public plan.
"The goal here is not to rock the boat in terms of the current system," Douglass told FOXNews.com. "There are incentives that will prevent them from dropping coverage."
But private insurers warn that Obama's reform proposals eventually would lead to the demise of insurance companies because employers unquestionably would opt for a government plan.
"We support the president's goal of expanding access, controlling costs and improving the quality of care. However, we do not see how a government sponsored plan accomplishes that," Chris Curran, a spokesman for CIGNA, told FOXNews.com.
Though Curran declined to outline CIGNA's plans to maintain its client base should the president's overhaul become law, he said the insurance company will make coverage more affordable for those who wish to purchase it independently.
"The American public will ultimately be the ones negatively impacted by a government-sponsored plan because it is fiscally irresponsible, will turn back the clock on quality, threaten patients' access and choice and worsen the existing cost shift between individuals on a government plan and those on employer-sponsored plans," Curran said.
Douglass said that while the possibility of employers abandoning private insurance is not entirely preventable, employers will face a strict penalty -- a payroll tax of as much as 8 percent on wages -- to dissuade them from giving up their existing plans. She added that the Congressional Budget Office concluded that "very few" companies will drop coverage with such mechanisms in place.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also countered claims by critics that an affordable government option will encourage companies to drop their existing plans.
"The House bill has some protections to make sure that if people are in employer-based coverage right now, they stay in employer-based coverage," Sebelius told FOX News on Sunday.
"For 180 million Americans who have coverage provided by their employer that works for them and their families, we want to make that more stable, more solid and encourage people to stay there," she said. "The new marketplace, the health exchange, is really for those Americans who either don't have affordable coverage at all or ... are the so-called underinsured."
A USA/Today Gallup poll released July 12 found that 43 percent of respondents rated the option to keep their current plan as "very important" while 34 percent regarded it as "extremely important." Only 13 percent rated it as "somewhat important" while 8 percent said it is "not important."
A Quinnipiac University poll conducted in June found that 53 percent of respondents said they would rather purchase health insurance from a private company whereas 28 percent said they would opt for the government program.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., is among those who charge that Obama's claim is misleading and say companies will seize the opportunity to take a government-run plan because it may be a cheaper option for them.
"Putting a government-run and -subsidized plan in competition with your private health insurance plans would be like putting an elephant in a room with some mice and saying, 'OK, fellas, compete," Alexander told FOXNews.com. "After a while, the elephant would be the only one left in the room -- the elephant, or government-run health care, would be your only choice."