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Obama Under Pressure Announces Change to Address Health Insurance Cancellations

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Source: Washington Post


Video: (Click picture to watch video) President Obama defended his health-care law during a long question and answer session about the Affordable Care Act Friday. “I’m not going to walk away from 40 million people who have the chance to get health insurance for the first time,” he said.

 

President Obama announced Thursday an administrative change in one of the bedrock ideas of the new health-care law, allowing insurers to continue offering individual insurance plans for another year even if they do not comply with the law’s rules for minimum benefits.

 

“This fix won’t solve every problem for every person, but it’s going to help a lot of people,” Obama said in making the announcement. “Doing more will require work with Congress,” he added.

The White House, responding to intensifying pressure from disgruntled consumers and Congress, decided to make the fix as a part of a strategy to try to ward off more far-reaching changes that are being advocated on Capitol Hill. Under the White House’s approach, the Department of Health and Human Services will notify the nation’s state insurance commissioners that they have federal permission to allow consumers who already have such insurance policies to keep them through 2014. It will be up to each state whether to go along.
The decision runs counter to a central aim of the law, which was to ensure that all people in the United States with private health plans are guaranteed at least certain benefits.

 

Washington later became the first state to announce that it would not allow insurers to extend their policies. Saying that its state-based exchange was “up and running and successfully enrolling thousands of consumers,” Mike Kreidler, the Washington state insurance commissioner, expressed “serious concerns” about Obama’s move and “its potential impact on the overall stability of our health insurance market.”

“In the interest of keeping the consumer protections we have enacted and ensuring that we keep health insurance costs down for all consumers, we are staying the course,” he said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

Obama said the administration will insist that insurance companies continuing to sell individual health policies that do not comply with the new standards inform consumers about “what protections these renewed plans don’t include” and alert their customers to potentially better and more affordable insurance available through the new federal and state marketplaces.

The White House’s strategy differs from a bill on which the House is to vote on Friday, sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), which would let new customers buy such minimal policies, rather than allowing only existing policy-holders to keep them for an additional year.

Insurers said Thursday that while they appreciated Obama’s effort to address consumers’ concerns, they remained concerned that the move could distort the risk pool in the new state and federal health-insurance marketplaces.

“Changing the rules after health plans have already met the requirements of the law could destabilize the market and result in higher premiums for consumers,” said Karen Ignani, president and chief executive of America’s Health Insurance Plans. “Premiums have already been set for next year based on an assumption of when consumers will be transitioning to the new marketplace. If now fewer younger and healthier people choose to purchase coverage in the exchange, premiums will increase and there will be fewer choices for consumers.”

While Obama defended his administration’s efforts to fix the problems that have plagued the health-care law’s implementation, he acknowledged that the last few weeks have been rocky.

“I think it’s fair to say that the rollout has been rough so far,” Obama said, referring to the troubled debut of HealthCare.gov, the Web site for the new federal health-insurance exchange. He added that the Web site “has gotten a lot better” but work remains to be done.

 

Breaking down the Obamacare enrollment numbers

“We fumbled the rollout of this health-care law,” Obama said. Regarding the policy cancellation issue, which contradicted his repeated promises that people would be able to keep insurance plans they liked, Obama said, “That’s on me. . . . That’s something I deeply regret because it’s scary getting a cancellation notice.”

Obama described both the cancellations on the individual market and the Web site rollout as significant problems, but he said the law’s implementation could still turn out well.

“These are two fumbles . . . on a big game — but the game’s not over,” he said. He vowed that the nation would not return to what he called the broken health-care system that existed before the Affordable Care Act.

“I was not informed directly that the Web site would not be working the way it was supposed to,” he said of the problems that were plaguing HealthCare.gov before its debut.

“I don’t think I’m stupid enough to go around saying, this is going to be like shopping on Amazon or Travelocity, a week before the Web site opens, if I thought that it wasn’t going to work,” he said.

Even as Obama outlined his administrative fix, he said he would continue to press ahead with the controversial health-care law.

“It is important to understand, though, that the old individual market was not working well,” he said “And it’s important that we don’t pretend that somehow that’s a place worth going back to. Too often it works fine as long as you stay healthy. It doesn’t work well when you’re sick.”

Obama said, “I will not accept proposals that are just another brazen attempt to undermine or repeal the overall law and drag us back into a broken system.”

“I’m not going to walk away from 40 million people who have the chance to get health insurance for the first time, and I’m not going to walk away from something that has helped the cost of health care grow at its slowest rate in 50 years,” he said.

When asked whether HealthCare.gov would be fully fixed by the end of the month, the president was careful not to promise that would happen by Nov. 30.

“It’s fair to say that the improvement will be marked and noticeable,” said, adding that “the Web site will work much better” than it did when it was launched on Oct. 1.

“On . . . November 30th, it will be a lot better. But there will still be some problems,” he added.

While Jeffrey Zients, the White House official in charge of fixing the online enrollment system, has said the site would work “smoothly” for “the vast majority of users” by the end of the month, Obama said that “the majority of people who go to the site” will have a good experience.

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