President Obama apologized to the millions of Americans in the individual health care market who are seeing their policies cancelled, during an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd on Thursday, promising to “do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this.”
“It means a lot to them. And it’s scary to them. And I am sorry that they, you know, are finding themselves in this situation, based on assurances they got from me,” Obama said. “[W]e tried to write the law in such a way that people could keep their care…But obviously, we didn’t do a good enough job in terms of how we crafted the law. And, you know, that’s something that I regret. That’s something that we’re going to do everything we can to get fixed.”
Administration officials say they’re exploring “administrative” fixes for the population in the individual market who may have an increase in premiums, but don’t receive subsidies. While it wasn’t immediately clear what changers the White House is considering, some health care experts say that the government may be able to use its regulatory authority to require insurers participating in the federally facilitated exchanges to continue their existing policies for people in the individual health care market through the open enrollment period. The administration may also exempt individual policies that renew for 2014 from some of the law’s regulatory requirements, making such plans more affordable.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are pursuing different legislative options. Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) have introduced separate measures that would allow individuals to remain in their existing health care plans.
Johnson’s proposal would extend grandfather status to insurance plans in effect from the date of enactment through December 31, 2013, including policies that issuers have chosen to cancel, as well as plans that individuals have already terminated. Companies would even be able to sell the old policies to new individuals, though they could also choose to discontinue the plans. The measure would eliminate some of the law’s key consumer protections for grandfather plans. Insurers would not have to offer young adult coverage or abide by the ban on recessions, lifetime and annual limits, or meet the law’s medical loss ratio — a provision that actually lowers premiums. Insurers would could still attribute cancellations to the Affordable Care Act and would not be required to notify consumers about the marketplaces or the possibility that they might qualify for tax credits and other assistance.
Upton’s bill seeks to extend grandfather status to plans in this calendar year, but does not eliminate some of the law’s consumer protections. Meanwhile, Landrieu’s “Keeping the Affordable Care Act Promise Act” would require insurers to continue policies indefinitely. Keeping healthier enrollees on existing policies could make for a more costly risk pool in the exchanges, however, potentially increasing premiums.
Obama didn’t endorse any specific measure, but said that the administration is considering “a range of options.” “I’ve assigned my team to see what we can do to close some of the holes and gaps in the law,” he said.