Obamacare Reshuffled: Changing Horses Midstream


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Besieged by a barrage of criticism, his approval ratings dropping and his credibility with the American people approaching Nixon status, President Barack Obama took to the airwaves November 14 to do some damage control about his signature healthcare reform program the Affordable Care Act commonly called Obamacare.

He addressed the enormous problem of insurance cancellations - despite his promises this would not happen. He announced that people will now be able to keep their plans for another year.

By doing so, Obama is changing horses midstream. Prior to this, Obama and other Democrats explained the cancellations by demonizing the insurers. The policies were terrible, and there would be little or no cost increase. But this was not true.

During his campaign for the Affordable Care Act, Obama promised Americans they will be able to keep their current insurance if they like it. He said emphatically that "if you like your healthcare plan you can keep your plan - period." He stressed that no one will be forced to change his medical insurance.

But the implementation of Obamacare revealed this promise to be completely false. Indeed, Obama's "You can keep your plan" will join "I am not a crook" and "I did not have sex with that woman" in the presidential statement hall of infamy.

"We fumbled the rollout on this health care law," Obama admitted during his November 14 mea culpa. "Now, as I indicated earlier, I completely get how upsetting this can be for a lot of Americans, particularly after assurances they heard from me that if they had a plan that they liked they could keep it. And to those Americans, I hear you loud and clear. I said that I would do everything we can to fix this problem. And today I'm offering an idea that will help do it."

"Already people who have plans that pre-date the Affordable Care Act can keep those plans if they haven't changed," Obama announced. "That was already in the law. That's what's called a grandfather clause that was included in the law. Today we're going to extend that principle both to people whose plans have changed since the law and to people who bought plans since the law took effect."

He continued by saying that state insurance commissioners will still determine what plans can and cannot be sold in their states. But insurers can extend into 2014 plans that would otherwise be cancelled.

"Americans whose plans have been cancelled can choose to re-enroll in the same kind of plan," Obama said.

He also said that insurers will be required to extend current plans to inform their customers about what protections in these renewed plans are not included. Another bit of information he wants insurers to communicate is that the marketplace offers new options with better coverage and tax credits that might help consumers bring down the cost.

But not all are convinced Obama's proposal is a solution. Kevin Kuhlman, the manager of legislative affairs for the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), is one such person.

"The president's administrative 'fix' does not address in any real way the root of the health insurance conundrum for small-business owners: skyrocketing costs," he said. "In fact, it's likely to keep costs high. The proposal is really just a temporary bid that may delay immediate pain but will not solve structural problems."

The NFIB is also concerned that the Obama administration makes changes by executive order and similar actions rather than go through the legislative process.

"The administration thinks they can change the law at will," said Cynthia Magnuson, an NFIB spokesperson.

America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), a Washington insurance industry association thinks the fix will make things worse.

"Making sure consumers have secure, affordable coverage is health plans' top priority," said AHIP CEO Karen Ignani in a message. "The only reason consumers are getting notices about their current coverage changing is because the ACA requires all policies to cover a broad range of benefits that go beyond what many people choose to purchase today."

The consequences of the reshuffle could be dire.

"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," Ignani said. "Premiums have already been set for next year based on an assumption of when consumers will be transitioning to the new marketplace. If due to these changes fewer younger and healthier people choose to purchase coverage in the exchange, premiums will increase in the marketplace and there will be fewer choices for consumers. Additional steps must be taken to stabilize the marketplace and mitigate the adverse impact on consumers."

But staunch supporters of Obamacare remain obdurate. The website of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) contains a statement by Dian Palmer RN , the chairperson of the Nurse Alliance of SEIU Healthcare. She excoriates Obamacare critics.

"Every week there is a new attack on the healthcare law from those who are hoping it will fail. This week the healthcare law is being blamed as individuals receive policy cancellation letters from insurers," she said. "The truth is, these skimpy insurance plans do not meet the minimum standard of care--and thanks to the healthcare law's protections, insurance companies can no longer sell plans that fail to cover basic things such as hospitalization, maternity care and prescription drugs."

But she and others like her who are devoted to Obamacare seem to be in the minority. Even President Obama now admits his program is not a silver bullet.

--Written by Michael P. Tremoglie for MainStreet

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