WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — Bowing to pressure, President Barack Obama on Thursday announced changes to his healthcare 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 healthcare law” and pledged to “just keep on chipping away at this until the job is done.”
“I think it’s fair to say the rollout has been rough so far and I think everybody understands that I’m not happy,” Obama said.
It was good news for people like Tina Discepola who was among those trying to get her policy reinstated on Thursday, CBS 2’s Dick Brennan reported.
“It’s an automated system and it doesn’t go anywhere. It keeps me on hold,” she said.
Natalie Willis is in the same boat. Her insurer told her to call back next week.
“I don’t want to believe the worst things about the affordable care act. I really don’t want to believe it’s gonna compromise the quality of my health care, but when things like this keep happening I wory things will continue to get worse,” Willis said.
At least 4 million Americans have received cancellation notices, despite Obama’s repeated pledges that people who liked their insurance plans could keep them.
Some states are tracking the policy notifications through their insurance departments or healthcare exchanges. In other states, the largest private insurers are releasing the number of discontinuation notices they have issued.
According to a report by the Associated Press, 100,000 people in New York and 150,000 people in New Jersey have received the notices so far. It’s unclear how many may have received notices in Connecticut.
“Those who got cancellation notices do deserve and have received an apology from me, but they don’t want just words. What they want is whether we can make sure they are in a better place and that we meet that commitment,” he said.
It’s unclear what the impact of Thursday’s changes will be for those 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.
The main industry trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, said Obama’s offer comes too late and could lead to higher premiums, since companies already have set 2014 rates based on the assumption that many people with individual coverage will shift over to the new markets created under Obama’s law.
Karen Ignagni, president of the industry group, didn’t speculate on whether companies would extend coverage for those threatened with cancellation, but warned in a statement that “changing the rules after health plans have already met the requirements of the law could destabilize the market and result in higher premiums for consumers.”
Willis and Discepola were both concerned that they would not get their plans back.
“I really don’t think I’m gonna be able to get it back,” Willis said.
Discepola was frustrated with the experience.
“Very frustrated. I keep myself healthy. You’re a doctor and I’m healthy and it’s very upsetting,” she said.
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.”
Republicans were unimpressed with the changes.
House Speaker John Boehner, speaking in advance of the president’s announcement, insisted it was time to “scrap this law once and for all.”
“You can’t fix this government-run healthcare plan called Obamacare ,” he said. “It’s just not fixable.”
Obama, for his part, made clear he would continue to fight ongoing attempts to sink the whole program, saying, “I will not accept proposals that are just a brazen attempt to undermine or repeal” the entire law.
“We’re going to solve the problems that are there, we’re going to get it right, and the Affordable Care Act is going to work for the American people,” he pledged.
Obama has been under enormous pressure from fellow Democrats to give ground on the cancellation issue under the healthcare overhaul.
In an interview earlier this week, former President Bill Clinton said Obama “should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they got.”
On Wednesday, the Obama administration said fewer than 27,000 people signed up for private health insurance last month under the Affordable Care Act in the 36 states relying on a problem-filled federal website.
States running their own enrollment systems did better, signing up more than 79,000, for a total enrollment of more than 106,000.
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