November 14, 2013

In reversal, Obama to allow canceled health plans

He acknowledges that ‘we fumbled the rollout of this health care law’ and pledges to ‘just keep on chipping away at this until the job is done.’

By Julie Pace And David Espo
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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President Barack Obama speaks about his signature health care law Thursday at the White House. “We’re going to solve the problems that are there, we’re going to get it right, and the Affordable Care Act is going to work for the American people,” he pledged.

The Associated Press

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In California, where more than 900,000 cancellations have been sent out, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones called on insurers to extend the policies being scrapped.

But in Washington, his counterpart, Mike Kreidler, said he won't allow that to happen. "I have serious concerns about how President Obama's proposal would be implemented and more significantly, its potential impact on the overall stability of our health insurance market," he said in a statement.

Until the president made his announcement, the administration had been assuming that individuals currently covered by plans marked for cancellation would switch to alternatives offered in government-established exchanges. If so, they would be joining millions of others who have lacked insurance in the past.

The people with current individual coverage are a known risk to insurers. But those without generally have had less access to medical services, and are most costly to care for. The theory has been that moving people with current coverage into the new markets would help stabilize premiums.

Only last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a Senate panel she doubted that retroactively permitting insurers to sell canceled policies after all "can work very well since companies are now in the market with an array of new plans. Many have actually added consumer protections in the last three-and-a-half years."

It will now be up to individual companies to decide which plans remain for sale, subject to the approval of state insurance commissioners.

Under Obama's new policy, insurance companies will be required to inform consumers who want to keep canceled plans about the protections that are not included under those plans. Customers will also be notified that new options are available offering more coverage and in some cases, tax credits to cover higher premiums.

Whatever the impact on consumers, Obama's announcement did nothing to quell Republican opposition to the overhaul they opposed, sought to have overturned at the Supreme Court and have voted numerous times to repeal.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said it was time to scrap the law "once and for all." He said, "You can't fix this government-run health care plan called Obamacare. It's just not fixable."

Even so, the House is expected to vote as scheduled on Friday on GOP-drafted legislation to permit insurance companies to sell existing individual coverage plans to current customers as well as newcomers. That is a step further than Obama went, and the White House is likely to oppose the measure as a result.

Approval in the GOP-controlled House is expected. Yet Obama's statement, coupled with an as-yet-undisclosed Democratic alternative, could well hold Democratic defections to a minimum.

Looking forward, Democrats said "Obamacare" will still turn out to be a political winner.

"Voters, particularly in swing districts, would prefer a Democrat who promises to fix and improve the Affordable Care act to a Republican who is obsessed with repealing and gutting it," said Rep. Steve Israel of New York, who heads the party's campaign committee.

The president faced a different set of concerns in the Senate, where several incumbents seeking new terms in swing states have been seeking a vote on legislation to require insurers to offer renewals to existing individual plans for 2014 and indefinitely into the future.

The bill's principal author, Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, said Obama's announcement was "a great first step," yet she added, "We will probably need legislation to make it stick."

Said Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, "If we need to do more, we will."

But others were not so eager to put the issue on the floor of the Senate.

Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, a member of the leadership, said there was "no need for a legislative fix." Instead, he said Congress and the administration should continue improving the implementation, and "redouble our efforts highlighting and explaining what this historic law will mean for 40 million Americans without insurance."

 

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