On Monday, President Barack Obama announced an administrative fix that is intended to reduce the number of Americans whose existing health care plans are getting canceled.
Currently, the Affordable Care Act offers “grandfathering” to individual insurance market plans that are unchanged since Feb. 23, 2010. People on these plans may keep them, if their insurers choose to continue offering them, even if those plans do not meet many of the new requirements under the law.
Now the president has announced his administration will extend that treatment, allowing a one-year extension of plans that have changed since Feb. 23, 2010, or that consumers signed up for after that date.
After the announcement, the president took press questions, some of which were quite sharp.
Major Garrett of CBS asked the president about his “If you like your plan, you can keep it” promise. Doesn’t the need for this fix make clear that it wasn’t true?
The president replied that his promise “ended up not being accurate” because the law’s grandfathering provisions were “insufficient.”
“That’s why I’m trying to fix it,” he added.
Obama said he opposes legislative efforts that “undermine the law;” he is positioning this administrative proposal as an alternative to bills currently being discussed in Congress that might have more sweeping effects. For example, a bill offered by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) would allow new consumers to buy plans that do not meet Obamacare requirements, rather than just letting existing customers stay in such plans.
In advance of the President’s remarks, House Speaker John Boehner said he was “highly sceptical” that an administrative fix to plan cancellations is possible, and that House Republicans will press forward with a plan to vote Friday on the Upton bill.
Republicans in Congress have been attacking the president for weeks over his promise that “if you like your health plan, you can keep it” which has been belied by several million Americans receiving cancellation notices for plans that don’t meet the law’s requirements.
Democrats have been growing increasingly restless over the issue; Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is sponsoring a bill that would not only allow but force insurers to keep offering existing plans; many House Democrats have been signaling that they might vote for the Upton bill.
One key matter to watch with the President’s proposal is how many cancellations it will actually prevent. Even if insurers are allowed to offer renewals, they may not always choose to do so, either because of the logistical challenges associated with un-cancelling health plans just 47 days before the start of the new year, or because the Affordable Care Act changes the insurance market in ways that make certain old plans unprofitable for insurers.
State insurance commissioners would also have to cooperate in the renewals, for example by approving premiums for 2014. That would be difficult on the tight timeline. That’s why Landrieu’s bill, unlike Upton’s, forces insurers to offer renewals.
Jeff Mason of Reuters asked the president about this issue. Obama said, “My guess is, right away, you’re going to see a number of state insurance commissioners” act to help ensure that existing plans can stay in place. But he noted there would be variation from state to state, depending on how permissive existing state insurance rules are.
Aside from the website and plan cancellation issues, the president offered a broader assessment of the rollout.
“We fumbled the rollout of the health care law,” he said, adding “I’m confident by the time we look back on this next year, people are going to say ‘This is working well.'”
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