President Will Allow Old Health Plans - NBC4: Columbus, Ohio News, Weather, and Sports (WCMH-TV)

President Will Allow Old Health Plans

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -

Bowing to pressure, President Barack Obama on Thursday announced changes to his health care 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.

State insurance commissioners are voicing serious concerns about the plan to stave off cancellations for people whose individual policies don't comply with the new health care law. In a statement Thursday, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners warned that the president's decision could undermine the new insurance markets being created under his overhaul law. Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon, president of the group, said Obama's proposal could lead to higher premiums and market disruptions next year and beyond. It may also be unworkable as a practical matter.

Ohio Insurance Commissioner and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor said the extension just prolongs a flawed plan that ultimately mandates coverage that many Ohioans don't want or need. "Keeping their policy one more year is obviously a reprieve that I'm sure many Ohioans would welcome but it's not going to solve the long term problems that are created by Obamacare," Taylor said.

The Ohio Association of Health Underwriters says most Ohioans with individual insurance policies received early renewal letters – not cancellation letters. Spokeswoman Kathy Lee says insurance carriers offered to renew policies for one year effective Dec. 1, 2013 – essentially the same deal now being offered by President Obama."What he presented was exactly what we're doing here in the state of Ohio," Lee said. "He's saying that the carriers should allow the policy holders to keep their policies for an additional 12 months and that's what this early renewal offer is for our policy holders"

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 health care law" and pledged to "just keep on chipping away at this until the job is done." He also promised to work to regain the trust of the American people. "I think it's legitimate for them to expect me to have to win back some credibility on this health care law in particular and on a whole range of these issues in general," he said.

It's unclear what the impact of Thursday's changes will be for the millions of people 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."

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.

While the White House deals with the cancellation issue, the administration is also promising improvements in a federal website so balky that enrollments totaled fewer than 27,000 in October in 36 states combined. The administration had said in advance the enrollment numbers would fall far short of initial expectations. After weeks of highly publicized technical woes, they did.  Adding in enrollment of more than 79,000 in the 14 states with their own websites, the nationwide number of 106,000 October sign-ups was barely one-fifth of what officials had projected - and a small fraction of the millions who have received private coverage cancellations as a result of the federal law.

The administration said an additional 1 million people have been found eligible to buy coverage in the markets, with about one-third qualifying for tax credits to reduce their premiums. Another 396,000 have been found eligible for Medicaid, which covers low-income people.

Administration officials and senior congressional Democrats expressed confidence in the program's future. "We expect enrollment will grow substantially throughout the next five months," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who is in charge of the program. "Even with the issues we've had, the marketplace is working and people are enrolling," she added.

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