President Barack Obama has announced a one-year reprieve for millions of Americans facing cancellation of their health insurance policies under his embattled healthcare law.
The president said insurers could extend individually purchased plans that would otherwise be cancelled.
While pushing for the law’s passage, Barack Obama vowed people with individual plans who liked their policies could keep them.
“We fumbled the rollout on this healthcare law,” he said.
In recent weeks insurance companies have sent letters to their customers announcing the cancellation of coverage that does not meet the Affordable Care Act’s strict new requirements for policies sold on the individual private market.
The law included a provision that would allow individual plans that did not meet the standard to continue as long as they were created before 2010. But many firms did not maintain these plans.
While Barack Obama said on Thursday that those people could keep their old plans, he encouraged them to shop around for better, more cost-effective coverage.
Under the change announced on Thursday, insurance companies that extend those plans will be required to inform customers of which medical care they do not cover, and inform them that other insurance options offering more coverage may be available.
Barack Obama also said he expected to have to “win back” credibility and the “confidence” of the American people in the wake of ongoing issues with the health law, his signature domestic policy initiative.
“I completely get how upsetting this can be for many Americans,” Barack Obama said, acknowledging that he had made assurances that anyone who wanted to keep their plans would be able to.
“To those Americans: I hear you loud and clear.”
It is unclear how many will be affected by the fix. White House officials told Reuters that state insurance commissioners would have to allow it to go ahead and it would be up to insurance firms to renew the plans.
Ahead of Barack Obama’s announcement, Republican House Speaker John Boehner insisted it was time to “scrap this law once and for all”.
“You can’t fix this government-run health care plan called ObamaCare,” John Boehner said of the law, which relies mostly on health insurance plans offered by private, for-profit companies.
“It’s just not fixable.”
At the White House briefing room, Barack Obama acknowledged the flaws with the law’s rollout had put a “burden” on his fellow Democrats.
The American public has remained divided over the law since its 2010 passage and subsequent rollout. Republicans, who were unanimously opposed to the law and have tried to undermine it at every turn, have sought political advantage in every reported problem with the law.
The law, known to both sides as “ObamaCare”, is certain to be an issue in the 2014 mid-term elections.
Before Barack Obama announced the change, the White House had said it was against proposals that would allow insurers to continue selling medical coverage that did not offer the level of benefits required under the law.
“The old individual market was not working well,” Barack Obama said on Thursday.
“And it’s important that we don’t pretend that somehow that’s a place worth going back to.”
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is still struggling to fix ongoing glitches with the healthcare.gov website, established by the law to enable consumers who do not get health insurance from their employers or from the government to shop for private plans.
Among other issues, the site has been plagued by long wait times to sign up for an insurance plan and serious flaws on the back end where customers’ data are processed and sent to insurance companies.
The problems have proven so severe that fewer than 27,000 people in 36 US states have successfully enrolled in healthcare programs on the site since it launched on October 1st.
In comparison, about 79,000 enrolled using websites run by states.
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