President Barack Obama on Thursday offered an administrative fix to the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, that would allow Americans whose current health insurance plans are being canceled to keep their existing coverage.
Millions of Americans started receiving cancellation letters from their insurace companies after their policies did not meet the law's requirements. “To those Americans, I hear you loud and clear,” Obama said at a news conference on Thursday. “I said that we would do everything we can to fix this problem.”
That administrative fix includes allowing insurers to extend coverage of the canceled plans for a year to those whose plans have changed since Obamacare took effect. Obama said insurance providers will be required to inform their clients of the protections not included. The move by the president came after heightened criticism from Republicans, and possible defection by vulnerable congressional Democrats, some of whom have already backed a GOP-led bill, seeking to let Americans keep plans they alread have and they like.
“This fix won’t solve every problem for every person,” he added, stating later that the changes will help many.
In selling the plan to skeptical Americans, Obama said in a 2009 town hall meeting in Colorado, “if you like your health care plan, you keep your health care plan. Nobody is going to force you to leave your health care plan. If you like your doctor, you keep seeing your doctor. I don’t want government bureaucrats meddling in your health care.”
Fast forward to four years later, with the exchanges that form a key part of the law now open for enrollment -- off to a rocky start with severe technical glitches and only slightly more than 100,000 enrollees in a month -- and hundreds of thousands of Americans are receiving cancellation notices for their pre-existing plans because of the new health-care law. The administration projected 500,000 people would sign up for the plan in the first month.
Republicans have since latched on to the malfunctioning of the HealthCare.gov website, which has been plagued with glitches since the Oct. 1 rollout, and the plan cancellations as political tools for continuing to fight Obamacare. This has only increased pressure on the president and his administration to come up with fixes for a law that Republicans have tried more than 40 times to repeal.
“The abysmal Obamacare enrollment numbers are another early warning sign that this legislation is deeply flawed and ultimately cannot be fixed,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said following the unveiling of the enrollment numbers. “Only full repeal and replacement can begin undoing the damage this law has done to people who have lost their health plans and doctors, and are paying higher out-of-pocket costs. There is a better way to help people obtain high quality health care and control costs, but Obamacare is not it.”
Obama came under even more pressure on Tuesday, when former President Bill Clinton, a political ally, also criticized the cancellations: "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 got,” he said in an interview with Ozy.com.
That pressure could mount even more, as a new Gallup poll is showing that more Americans have a negative view of the law. Gallup data shows that Obamacare is now approved by 40 percent of Americans with 55 percent voicing disapproval. Moreover, while Americans consider a dysfunctional government the most important issue facing the nation at this time, poor healthcare and the high cost of health care as the second most important problem in America.
Some vulnerable Democrats up for re-election next year have since sided with the GOP on its “Keep Your Health Plan Act,” a bill seeking to prevent Americans from losing their current health insurance plans under Obamacare. The bill is set to come for a vote before the week ends. It would grandfather all plans as of Jan. 1, 2013 and not March 23, 2010 as is the case with Obamacare.
“When folks were first introduced to the Affordable Care Act, they were promised that they could keep their current plan if they liked it,” Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., said in a statement on Tuesday. He is a cosponsor of the Republican-led bill. “As it turns out, that’s not the case today. I voted against this bill because of the enormous burden it placed on individuals, and at the very least, we should be doing all we can to ensure that promise is kept.”
But the president promised that, “We’re going to get it right and the Affordable Care Act is going to work for the American people.”
Laura is a U.S. politics reporter for the International Business Times. She was always fascinated by the BBC World News each morning on the radio in Jamaica. That, and a love...