Privately insured Americans whose insurance was deemed unworthy under Obamacare can keep their plans one more year, President Barack Obama said today. In a news conference announcing the policy shift, Obama tried to calm public fury and address his own party’s concerns that he reneged on his promise to allow people to keep their insurance plans if they wanted to.
“With respect to the pledge I made that if you like your plan you can keep it, I think—you know, and I’ve said in interviews—that there is no doubt that the way I put that forward unequivocally ended up not being accurate,” Obama told reporters. “We put a grandfather clause into the law but it was insufficient.”
More than 5 million Americans have received cancellation notices for their individually purchased plans because the plans do not meet the new federal government standards. With about 15 million Americans owning insurance policies on the individual market, millions more are expected to lose their current coverage because the government thinks they are “badly insured.”
The changes Obama proposed today would extend the grandfather clause to plans that have been purchased or have changed since the Affordable Care Act took effect in 2010. The president stated those plans could be “extended into 2014,” but did not say what would happen to them after that. “Doing more will require work with Congress,” he said.
Obama’s proposal countered a bill gaining steam in Congress that would have gone a step further and allowed insurers to keep selling the grandfathered plans to new customers. The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., had backing from Democrats such as Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, who said Wednesday that he supported Americans keeping their insurance plans despite the fact that he voted to pass Obamacare. Doyle said Democrats warned Obama that “if you don’t give us something by Friday” to fix the cancellation problem, many Democrats would vote for the House bill.
Ahead of Obama’s announcement, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, criticized the administration’s attempts to salve the most painful part of Obamacare, insisting instead it was time to “scrap this law once and for all.” The speaker suggested the House could still hold a vote on Upton’s bill Friday.
In his remarks, Obama acknowledged that his administration “fumbled the rollout on this healthcare law,” and the fallout could hamper Democrats’ success in upcoming elections.
“There is no doubt that our failure to roll out the ACA smoothly has put a burden on Democrats, whether they’re running or not, because they stood up and supported this effort through thick and thin,” he said.
If the president’s quick fix cools the fury of politicians and their constituents, it will almost certainly aggravate the insurance industry. Insurers must now scramble to adjust after having worked for years to prepare for the Obamacare rollout. Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, said in a statement that Obama’s changes may “destabilize the market and results in higher premiums for consumers.” Insurers set the prices for next year assuming many private customers would buy new plans to comply with Obamacare. If that doesn’t happen, prices of those plans might rise for new consumers, many of whom currently do not have insurance.