By C.N. Staff Writer
Amid mounting political pressure by Republicans to address problems with the rollout of the new healthcare reform, President Obama announced drastic changes to the Affordable Care Act. In a press conference mid-November he announced that he would allow Americans to keep health plans that do not meet Obamacare’s coverage standards — a stark attempt to quell the political firestorm around his broken promise that those who like their insurance coverage can keep it under his signature law.
Obama apologized late November for the broken promise, but aides said at the time the White House was only considering administration changes, rather than new legislation. “I completely get how upsetting this can be for a lot of Americans, particularly after assurances they heard from me that if they had a plan they like, they can keep it,” the President said. The administrative changes are good for just one year, though senior administration officials said they could be extended if problems with the law persist. The president acknowledged that the process has not been as fluid as her perceived and he has been under mounting political pressure to fix it.
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.
Under Obama’s plan, insurance companies would not be allowed to sell coverage deemed subpar under the law to new customers, marking a difference with legislation that House Republicans intend to put to a vote on Friday.
While the White House deals with the cancellation issue, the administration is also promising improvements in the federal website so balky that enrollments totaled fewer than 27,000 in October in 36 states combined. The administration had said in advance the enrollment numbers would fall far short of initial expectations. After weeks of highly publicized technical woes, they did.
Adding in enrollment of more than 79,000 in the 14 states with their own websites, the nationwide number of 106,000 October sign-ups was barely one-fifth of what officials had projected — and a small fraction of the millions who have received private coverage cancellations as a result of the federal law.
The administration said an additional 1 million people have been found eligible to buy coverage in the markets, with about one-third qualifying for tax credits to reduce their premiums. Another 396,000 have been found eligible for Medicaid, which covers low-income people.
Moving forward, the president said he’s open to working with Congress to take further steps allowing all Americans to keep their insurance. “This fix won’t solve every problem for every person, but it’s going to help a lot. Doing more will require working with Congress. I’ve said from the beginning I’m willing to work with Democrats and Republicans to fix problems as they arise,” Mr. Obama said.
During the first month of activity, about 106,000 Americans enrolled in health care exchanges and fewer than 27,000 of those were from the federally run exchanges, the administration said Wednesday.
Jim Donelon, president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and the Louisiana insurance commissioner, said in a statement that members of his organization, which represents state insurance commissioners, “have been working to ensure that plans are compliant with the new rules.” He added, “These proposed changes are creating a level of uncertainty that we must work together to alleviate.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a Senate panel she doubted that retroactively permitting insurers to sell canceled policies “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.”
House Speaker John Boehner, speaking in advance of the president’s announcement, insisted it was time to “scrap this law once and for all.”
“You can’t fix this government-run health care plan called Obamacare,” he said. “It’s just not fixable.”
Regardless of the Republican claims, Obama, has made it clear he would continue to fight ongoing attempts to sink the whole program, saying, “I will not accept proposals that are just a brazen attempt to undermine or repeal” the entire law.