The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

November 14, 2013

Policy cancellations: Obama will allow old plans

Administrative change will be for one year; companies not required to reinstate

WASHINGTON (AP) — Bowing to pressure, President Barack Obama on Thursday announced changes to his health care law to give insurance companies the option to keep offering consumers plans that would otherwise be canceled.

The administrative changes are good for just one year, though senior administration officials said they could be extended if problems with the law persist. Obama announced the changes at the White House.

"This fix won't solve every problem for every person, but it's going to help a lot of people," the president said.

He acknowledged that "we fumbled the rollout of this health care law" and pledged to "just keep on chipping away at this until the job is done."

Obama has been under enormous pressure from congressional Democrats to give ground on the cancellation issue under the health care overhaul, a program likely to be at the center of next year's midterm elections for control of the House and Senate.

It's unclear what the impact of Thursday's changes will be for the millions of people who have already had their plans canceled. While officials said insurance companies will now be able to offer those people the option to renew their old plans, companies are not required to take that step.

Insurance companies will be required to inform consumers who want to keep canceled plans about the protections that are not included under those plans. Customers will also be notified that new options are available offering more coverage and in some cases, tax credits to cover higher premiums.

Under Obama's plan, insurance companies would not be allowed to sell coverage deemed subpar under the law to new customers, marking a difference with legislation that House Republicans intend to put to a vote on Friday.

Only last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a Senate panel she doubted that retroactively permitting insurers to sell canceled policies "can work very well since companies are now in the market with an array of new plans. Many have actually added consumer protections in the last three-and-a-half years."

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