Obama says non-compliant ACA insurance policies can be renewed
By Al Cross, Kentucky Health News

Posted on January 1, 0001 12:00 AM

People with insurance policies that don't measure up to the federal health-reform law will be able to renew them for another year, President Obama announced today in an effort to quell outrage about policy cancellations that made hash of his promise "If you like your plan, you can keep it."

An estimated 280,000 Kentuckians have policies that are being canceled because they do not comply with the law's coverage requirements. Obama said insurance companies will be required to tell such policyholders "what protections these renewed plans don't include" and that they have alternatives that may be better and cheaper, with the help of federal tax subsidies.

The president also said state insurance commissioners will still have the power to decide what plans can and can't be sold in their states. "Kentucky will comply with the president’s request to allow Kentucky’s insurers the option of determining whether to extend existing health insurance policies to current policyholders for one more year," Gov. Steve Beshear said in a written statement. "This will be a business decision for each insurer to make, as many of them have invested a great deal of time and money into preparing for the transition to new standards under the Affordable Care Act."

At a White House press conference, Obama was asked why he kept repeating that people could keep their plan when his own administration had said in the Federal Register that people in the individual and small-group markets, about 6 percent of Kentucky's policyholders, would lose policies.

"There's no doubt that the way I put that forward unequivocally ended up not being accurate," he said. "It was not because of my intention not to deliver on that commitment. . . . We put a grandfather clause into the law but it was insufficient." The law said people could keep policies they had in place when it was passed, but that protection disappeared if an insurance company changed the policy, which seems to have happened in most cases.

Obama said he thought that most people whose policies were canceled "could find better policies at lower costs or the same costs in the marketplaces" run by the federal government and individual states like Kentucky, and the rest would be covered by the grandfather clause. "There's a good chance they'll be able to buy better insurance at lower costs," he said.

Asked if his broken promise creates a breach in public trust and confidence in government, Obama said, "There is no doubt that people are frustrated" and think that in Washington, "'not enough is being done that helps me with my life.' They expect me to do something about it. . . . It's legitimate for them to expect me to have to win back some credibility on this health-care law in particular and on a whole range of these issues in general."

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell issued this statement: “President Obama’s announcement doesn’t even come close to fixing the problems that so many Americans are facing right now as a result of cancelled health care plans and skyrocketing premiums. But, it does represent the clearest acknowledgment yet that his oft-repeated pledge ‘if you like your plan, you can keep it’ was false all along. What makes this admission even worse is the fact that it was prompted not by the heartbreaking stories of millions of Americans, but by the private pleadings of a handful of endangered Democrats. Americans are becoming increasingly aware of the fact Obamacare is broken beyond repair. The only ‘fix’ is full repeal followed by step-by-step, patient-centered reforms that drive down costs and that Americans actually want.”

Obama said at the press conference that the law will work and he is not backing away from it: "We’re going to do everything we can to help the Americans who have received these cancellation notices. But I also want everybody to remember there are still 40 million Americans who don’t have health insurance at all. 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."

Tacitly acknowledging that it makes some people pay more, he said society and governments often make decisions carrying initial costs that are outweighed by long-term benefits, such as requiring motor vehicles to have seat belts. Speaking of the law's ineffective grandfather clause, he said “It's almost like we said to folks, 'You gotta buy a new car even though you can't afford it right now.'”

Many questions at the press conference dealt with the faulty federal website, which Kentuckians to not use. Obama said, "These are two fumbles . . . on a big game, but the game's not over."

"This solution combines a clever public-relations stunt, a stalling tactic, an act of retribution, the genuine possibility of transition assistance for some, and a large political and substantive gamble," Brian Beutler writes for Salon. "It bears the hallmarks of desperation and frustration and determination, but it just might work.

Kentucky Health News is an independent service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky

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