Obama announces change to address health insurance cancellations
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 relented to pressure from the public and his own party Thursday and changed one of the bedrock requirements of the new health-care law to fulfill his promise to allow people to keep their insurance plans if they want.
While the move was aimed at solving a problem that was threatening the president’s credibility and public faith in the law, it raised a slew of new questions, including whether insurers would adjust, whether millions of customers would pay higher premiums and whether states would make the fix available.
The president made the change at a White House news conference that quickly turned from a specific policy announcement into a nearly hour-long deconstruction of broader flaws with the health-care law and Obama’s responsibility for its early failures.
The president was contrite, and his admissions were many — he conceded that he was left in the dark about aspects of the crowning achievement of his presidency, he acknowledged that he and his advisers underestimated how hard it would be to sell insurance over a Web site, he could not guarantee that the site would work well for everyone by the end of the month, he allowed that federal government rules were an impediment, and he lamented the political problems he caused for members of his party.
“There have been times where I thought we were . . . slapped around a little bit unjustly. This one’s deserved, all right? It’s on us,” 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 insurance companies could continue for another year to offer health plans sold to individuals and small businesses that do not meet requirements under the new law that set minimum standards for the benefits that policies must cover.
Individual policies have long been a problematic part of the insurance market, with higher prices than most group plans, fewer benefits and a tendency to cut off people when they get sick. The health-care law tried to address this problem by directing Americans who rely on individual policies to buy coverage through the new insurance marketplaces — and by defining the set of essential benefits.
Under the new rules, people may renew individual and small-group policies, which otherwise would have ended with the new year, until Oct. 1 — allowing them to stay in effect through September 2015. Obama said the administration will insist that insurance companies that continue to sell policies that do not comply with the new law inform consumers about “what protections these renewed plans don’t include” and alert customers to potentially better and more affordable insurance in the new federal and state marketplaces.
The president’s remarks came as a number of recent polls illuminated the escalating problems that Obama and Democrats face. A new Gallup poll released Thursday shows that disapproval of the Affordable Care Act has risen from 47 percent just a couple of weeks ago to a high of 55 percent. At the same time, Obama’s approval ratings have dropped, hovering between the high 30s and low 40s.