Wednesday, April 23, 2014
The Associated Press
(Continued from page 1)
Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday before the House Ways and Means Committee. Her appearance follows last week’s testimony by outside contractors who said there wasn’t enough time to test the complex online enrollment system.
The Associated Press
Some immediately saw the promise as too broad to deliver on, given that health plans are constantly being changed by the employers that sponsor them or by insurers directly.
Nonetheless, Democrats in Congress devised a complicated scheme called "grandfathering" to try to make good on Obama's pledge. It shields plans from the law's requirements, provided the plans themselves change very little. Insurers say it has proven impractical.
The White House weighed in Tuesday, with spokesman Jay Carney saying the changes are part of a transition to better coverage. "The good news," he said, "is that for every one of these individuals who might have a plan that is almost by definition providing less than minimal benefits ... you are now being offered a variety of options, including options by the very insurer that covers you already, for new coverage."
Critics say that's like an airline forcibly upgrading you from economy to business class, and exposing you to a higher ticket price.
Proponents of the health care law offered evidence to support the administration's position that losing coverage could be advantageous. In California, Anne Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the state's health care exchange, Covered California, said that about 900,000 people are expected to lose existing plans that do not provide the minimum level of coverage required under the health care law.
"They basically had plans that had gaping holes in the coverage. They would be surprised when they get to the emergency room or the doctor's office, some of them didn't have drug coverage or preventive care," Gonzalez said. About a third of those people will be eligible for subsidies, she said, if they come to the health exchange.
During the House hearing, Tavenner delivered the most direct mea culpa yet from the administration for the technical problems that have kept many Americans from signing up through HealthCare.gov.
"I want to apologize to you that the website has not worked as well as it should," she told the committee.
The first senior official to publicly answer questions from lawmakers, Tavenner was pressed not only on what went wrong with the website, but also whether lawmakers can trust recent promises that things will be running efficiently by the end of November.
She declined to provide enrollment numbers, repeating nearly 20 times they will not be available until mid-November. But she did try to lower expectations of a strong initial sign-up. "We expect the initial number to be small," Tavenner said.
An internal memo obtained by the AP showed that the administration expected nearly 500,000 uninsured people to sign up for coverage in October, the program's first month. Committee chairman Camp told Tavenner that by his math, the administration appears headed for less than a fourth of that.
Outside contractors testified last week that there wasn't sufficient time to test the complex online enrollment system, which froze the day it was launched, Oct. 1.
The website is supposed to be the online portal to coverage for people who don't have health plans on the job. Its audience is not only uninsured Americans but those who already purchase coverage individually.
Under the law, middle-class people can qualify for tax credits to make private health insurance more affordable, while low-income people will be steered to Medicaid in states agreeing to expand that safety net program.