Republican staffer warns of patients getting stuck in "grandfathered" plans

Employers could lose their ability to change health plans or negotiate better rates and benefits under new healthcare reform regulations, the top GOP staffer on the Ways and Means Committee's health panel said Wednesday. Dan Elling, the Republican staff director for the health subcommittee, raised the issue during a CQ-Roll Call policy forum.

"All this leverage has been taken away from the employer," Elling said, referring to the so-called "grandfathering" provision of the new law. Employers whose plans are grandfathered are exempt from complying with some of the burdensome provisions of the new law, such as cost-sharing requirements. Grandfathering regulations were released last week. 

Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and health committee Chair Charles Grassley (Iowa) have raised concerns with employers dropping coverage because of the provision. But Elling offered a different take.

He pointed out that in order to stay grandfathered, employers won't be able to switch to a different plan even if it offers the same benefits as the existing plan at lower cost. That could empower insurers to raise rates, he said.

The administration is still seeking comment on whether changes to a provider network or drug coverage should result in cessation of the grandfather status.