Obama wants fix for canceled policies
White House looks for unilateral action
President Obama directed his aides to look for “administrative solutions” to halt cancellations of insurance policies as a result of his health care law, a spokesman said yesterday.
“The president did acknowledge that there are some gaps in the law that need to be repaired,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters traveling with Obama to an event in Louisiana, a day after the president said he’s sorry some people are getting cancellation letters.
White House staff members are at the Capitol today presenting their ideas for changes that wouldn’t require legislation to representatives of top House Democratic, according to a leadership aide, who asked not to be named because the meeting isn’t public.
Obama and his advisers are defending his signature domestic achievement following last month’s faulty rollout of the website designed to enable Americans to shop for coverage and revelations that hundreds of thousands of people have received cancellation notices from their insurers.
The canceled policies contradict Obama’s repeated pledge that people who like their coverage would be able to keep it when the law took effect.
The difficulties sparked an outcry among some Democratic lawmakers who are up for re-election next year face the prospect that their Republican opponents will use them as campaign issues.
House Republicans, staunchly opposed to the law, are poised to vote on a measure allowing health care plans currently available to continue into next year without penalty. Many of the plans being canceled don’t meet the coverage requirements under the law and have been changed by insurers since the law took effect in 2010.
Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana has made a similar proposal in that chamber and another Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has proposed legislation to delay fines for not enrolling by the current deadline. Other Democrats are pushing the White House to make administrative changes, including delaying penalties and extending the enrollment period for the insurance policies.
Those kinds of fixes could give Democrats in vulnerable seats a way to acknowledge the problems with the law without undermining one of their party’s major achievements.
The law requires that all Americans to be covered next year or pay a penalty. Those who want plans that begin Jan. 1 must enroll by Dec. 15 – by mail, phone or through the federal or state-run exchanges.
“The president has said for years now that he is open to working with members of Congress that have a legitimate interest in trying to strengthen the Affordable Care Act,” Earnest said, adding that the White House prefers “unilateral” solutions to congressional legislation.
Obama’s public approval ratings have been driven down by the stream of reports about technical failures and canceled policies. His pledge that individuals would be able to keep their coverage and their doctors was a central selling point of his health care overhaul, aimed at calming consumers concerned that they would be forced to give up policies and doctors they liked as the program expanded coverage to many of the nation’s 48 million uninsured.
In his apology to Americans who are losing coverage as a result of the law, Obama said he’s “sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me.”
Speaking in an interview Thursday with NBC News at the White House, the president said, “We’ve got to work hard to make sure that they know we hear them and we are going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this.”
Republicans pounced on the president’s remarks, attacking Obama for not supporting legislation they have pushed that would allow Americans to keep their current plans.
“If the president is truly sorry for breaking his promises to the American people, he’ll do more than just issue a half- hearted apology on TV,” Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said in a statement yesterday.
Speaking to NBC, Obama asked voters to judge the law based on the final results – not the technical issues many have faced during the enrollment period.
“When you try to do something big like make our health-care system better, there are going to be problems along the way,” he said. “I hope that people will look at the end product.”
Obama previously accused his critics of being “grossly misleading” about how the law works and said those people being thrown off plans that don’t meet the law’s standards will be getting better insurance coverage.
Yet, administration officials knew by June 2010 that as many as 10 million people with individual insurance probably would be thrown off existing plans. The cancellations are a result of provisions in the act, which Obama signed into law in March 2010, that say policies that fail to offer benefits such as prescription drug coverage and free preventive care can’t be sold after this year even if they’re cheaper.
As cancellation notices began arriving last month, White House officials argued that just 5 percent of the population is affected, and that insurance company practices, not the law, were to blame.
“In this transition, there are going to be folks who get a cancellation letter,” Obama said in the interview. “We have to make sure that they are not feeling as if they’ve been betrayed by an effort that is designed to help them.”
The president invited Landrieu and 14 other Democratic senators facing re-election to a two-hour White House meeting on Nov. 6 to air their complaints. Landrieu also accompanied Obama on his trip to New Orleans.
During his speech today, Obama didn’t directly address the coverage issues and he defended the law. He said he expected critics to continue attacking it “until it’s working really well, then they’re going to stop calling it Obamacare.”