Under fire from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and the American public over the Affordable Care Act's rocky rollout, President Obama announced on Thursday morning a temporary fix that that would allow insurance companies to keep individuals on plans they have and like for an additional year.
"This fix won't solve every problem for every person, but it is going to help a lot of people," the president said in remarks delivered from the White House briefing room.
Since the Affordable Care Act's open enrollment period began on Oct. 1, millions of Americans have received cancellation notices even though the president on several occasions said that people who liked their plan could keep it. In addition, the rollout has been "wrought with a whole range of problems," Obama acknowledged.
"We should have done a better job of getting this right on Day One," he said. "We did fumble the ball on it and one of the things I am going to do is make sure we get it fixed."
Under the new proposal, insurers can now reach out to the people who've received cancellation notices and renew their plans through 2014. Contrary to a Republican proposal set for a vote in the House on Friday, insurance companies will not be able to sell to new customers policies that do not meet the Affordable Care Act's requirements.
The one-year delay is also a pre-emptive strike that now frees frustrated Democrats from having to support the Republican bill.
Insurance companies must inform policyholders about any protections and benefits their renewed policies will not include. They must also notify consumers that they will have new options available in the marketplace exchange, that the adminisration argues will provide more comprehensive coverage and the possibility to get tax credits or coverage through Medicaid.
The announcement follows the release of the first month's enrollment figures yesterday, which showed that only 106,185 people have signed up. Of that figure, only 26,794 enrolled through the federally run exchange.
In a conference call with reporters Thursday morning, a senior administration official said that the White House still believes that the health insurance marketplace offers consumers greater, more cost-effective choices and better protections and enrollment will be more more "robust" as the website's problems are fixed.
Obama said that he was unaware of the website's technical problems before the launch, adding that had he known, he would not have been "stupid enough to say this is going to be as easy as shopping around on Amazon or Travelocity.”
Despite ongoing problems, the president reiterated his commitment to continue moving forward with the controversial health law.
“I’m not going to walk away from 40 million people who have the chance to get health insurance for the first time, and I’m not going to walk away from something that has helped the cost of health care grow at its slowest rate in 50 years,” he said.
House Speaker John Boehner, however, told reporters Thursday that the only way to fix the law is to scrap it "once and for all."
Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings also is wary of the administration's solution, albeit for very different reasons.
"It could possibly weaken the law. And one of the problems with some of these policies, and a lot of people in the African-American community have them, is they're not worth the paper they're written on," he told BET.com before heading to a briefing on the issue with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough.
Keeping those policies, he added, could mean losing out on the benefits in the health care law and paying dearly for it later with less care and higher costs.
While Cummings understands why the administration has offered the one-year delay, there are no guarantees that state insurance commissioners will allow providers to renew plans for current policies. In addition, he said, companies have told him that they've already made plans on how to move forward based on the law being implemented as planned.
"The Affordable Care Act is like a puzzle with a lot of pieces that all have to fit together. If you want to [provide coverage to people with pre-existing conditions], you've got to have certain people, like young people, buying policies," Cummings said. "So when you start taking pieces out, the question is whether financially it still fits. We have to be very vigilant about taking pieces out. The puzzle may fall apart."
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(Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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