White House Willing to Consider Fix to Stop Health Policy Cancellations

By Roger Runningen and | November 13, 2013

The Obama administration today indicated it was willing to consider Democratic legislation to halt some of the hundreds of thousands of health insurance policy cancellations that have raised alarm among voters and lawmakers.

A proposal by Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu and other Democrats to let individuals keep their current health-care policies as long as they’re current on payments “shares the goal” of President Barack Obama for fixing the health-care law, White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

While he and other White House officials previously stressed they were searching for solutions without congressional action, Carney said today “that does not preclude other avenues.”

“We’re going to work with her and we’re going to work with others,” Carney said. “We’re open to, as I said, both legislative and administrative solutions.”

The administration is working to address the latest hurdle for the health-care law following meetings between Obama and his advisers with congressional Democrats over the past week and remarks yesterday by former President Bill Clinton, who said Obama should keep his repeated pledge that Americans wouldn’t lose coverage they liked when the law took effect.

Honoring Commitment

“Even if it takes a change to the law, the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they’ve got,” Clinton said in an interview with the online magazine Ozy.

Obama last week offered a public apology over the cancellations and had a White House meeting with Senate Democrats who face voters in 2014 to ask for patience as the administration works to remedy the troubled rollout of the law.

House Democrats today confronted David Simas, the deputy senior adviser to the president, and Mike Hash, the director of the Office of Health Reform at the Department of Health and Human Services, during a closed-door meeting.

The administration is seeking to quell dissent among Democrats before a vote in the House later this week on a proposal from Michigan Republican Representative Fred Upton to let individuals keep existing policies through next year.

Republican Plan

The White House says Upton’s measure would undermine the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act by letting insurers “sell new policies that were substandard,” Carney said.

Obama plans to announce a course of action “sooner rather than later,” Carney said without being specific.

At issue are health insurance policies purchased by individuals. The law says that health insurance policies that fail to offer added benefits, such as prescription drug coverage and free preventive care, can’t be sold after this year even if they’re cheaper.

While it includes a clause that exempts policies in effect when the law was enacted in March 2010 as long as no major changes were made, hundreds of thousands of Americans received notices from their insurers that their policies were being canceled next year.

The rollout of the law, known as Obamacare, has been beset by computer flaws hampering consumers’ ability to sign up on the federal healthcare.gov website, questions about the security of private information, and complaints by individuals who are losing their insurance plans and face premium increases for new policies.

The administration said today that about 106,000 people in the U.S. signed up for private health insurance through Obamacare last month, far less than its enrollment goals.

–With assistance from Margaret Talev, Michael C. Bender and Roxana Tiron in Washington. Editors: Joe Sobczyk, Steven Komarow

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