President Obama scrambled to find a coherent response Tuesday after former President Clinton jammed the administration by saying it should keep its promise that people could keep their health insurance plans if they liked them.
The White House said Obama agreed with Clinton, but it offered no concrete idea on how that could be done.
Anxiety is growing among congressional Democrats, with the House poised to vote this week on Republican legislation to let insurers offer their old plans even if they don’t meet the new standards required by ObamaCare.
The White House opposes the pending House Republican bill but has no alternative yet. The quicker Obama comes up with an answer the better, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday.
“I don’t know whether we’ll press them, but they say they’re coming up with [a change], so sooner rather than later as to what their thinking is would be better,” Hoyer said during a press briefing in the Capitol.
Hoyer said he’s leaning toward opposing the GOP bill, sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), which Republican aides say has close to 150 co-sponsors, but he emphasized that he hasn’t seen the final version.
“As I understand it, it’s being changed and modified, so I’m going to reserve any judgment until I see his bill,” Hoyer said.
Upton’s bill would give insurance companies the option of offering the old plans, but health experts told The Hill they didn’t know how the administration could ensure that many of the nearly 5 million people who have had their plans canceled could get them back.
“It’s literally an administrative nightmare,” said Bill Hoagland, a senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
The first hurdle is operational. Healthcare plans have to go through a federal review and approval process before they can be sold on the exchanges.
“These processes can take months,” said Robert Zirkelbach a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the country’s largest healthcare trade organization.
Many of the old plans have already been eliminated from the exchanges for not meeting minimum requirements.
“We can’t bring plans back from the dead,” said an aide to Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), the chief sponsor of a Senate bill that would require insurance companies to offer plans that were offered before the new ObamaCare standards took effect.
In addition, many consumers have been notified that they’ll be required to change to an approved alternative, and in many cases, have already enrolled in the new plans, even if they had wanted to stay in their old one.
“The notices have gone out; the programming has taken place; you’ve got the approvals from state commissioners on the plans,” Hoagland said. “I’m not saying it’s impossible, but you add that to the already existing administrative issues, and it further complicates things.”
Yet lawmakers, particularly Democrats in red states who are being hit on the issue by Republicans, are increasingly desperate to back legislation that would allow people to keep their canceled plans.
“When I first heard [about the proposals], I said ‘Oh my gosh, they’re in trouble,’ ” said Hoagland.
A new poll released Tuesday showed Sen. Kay Hagan’s (D-N.C.) lead in polls ahead of her reelection effort next year all but disappearing. Hagan is one of several red state Democrats backing Landrieu’s measure.
Changing the law to accommodate people who purchased individual plans before ObamaCare went into effect could have serious implications for the new marketplace’s risk pool, premium prices and the cost of the law to the federal government.
Cori Uccello, a senior health policy fellow at the American Academy of Actuaries (AAA), told The Hill that those seeking to keep their current, potentially cheaper plans, would likely be younger and healthier, while those happy to transition from the old plans would be doing so for the beefed-up coverage that benefits the sick.
The Obama administration is pushing to sign up the young and healthy, as a balanced risk pool is critical to keeping premiums affordable for everyone in 2015 and beyond.
“The fear is that the risk pools would be more costly than expected,” Uccello said.
Of course, 2014 premiums have already been calculated based on assumptions that the old policies would be canceled, so the government could face a shortage if it doesn’t collect enough to cover next year’s premiums because of a late change to the law.
The government can’t set 2015 premiums to recoup losses from previous years.
“The premiums have been filed for 2014 based on an assumptions about when existing policies are ending, and when people would transition to the new marketplace,” Zirkelbach said. “A wholesale change this late in the game would impact assumptions about those premiums, so those are all issues we’d need to address.”
Clinton’s comments on Tuesday greatly intensified the pressure on the administration, as did the decision by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to back Landrieu’s legislation.
“I personally believe, even if it takes a change in the law, that the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they’ve got,” Clinton said in an interview at OZY.com.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the comments reflected the “growing recognition” that Americans were misled about being able to keep their existing plans.