Carney denies people misled on keeping healthcare coverage

White House press secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday denied President Obama had misled the public when he said that consumers could keep their health insurance plans after the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

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Carney said that consumers who "had a plan the day before the Affordable Care Act passed and signed into law" and who had not either dropped their coverage or "been thrown off the plan" by their insurance companies were "grandfathered in and can keep that plan."

"If you've kept it, you can keep it forever, as long as your insurer offers it," Carney said.

The controversy centers around a small but important segment of healthcare consumers who purchase health insurance on their own.

These consumers — usually about 5 percent of the American population — typically purchase year-long contracts with insurance companies for coverage. 

But many of these plans do not satisfy basic requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Under ObamaCare, plans must offer certain "essential" benefits — like free preventive care — to qualify as acceptable.

Under the ACA, those non-qualifying plans could be "grandfathered in" — allowing subscribers to keep their exiting coverage at existing prices, even if they don't offer all the benefits mandated. But plans cannot be carried over if insurance companies have made substantial changes to key elements of the policy. 

Insurers regularly alter benefits and co-pays from year to year, and thus many individuals with privately-purchased insurance won't be able to keep their same coverage after ObamaCare is implemented.

Because of that, insurance companies have begun sending out 90-day notices to their customers informing them that their policy will no longer be offered, and instead instructing them to purchase a new policy.

Republicans have seized on that as evidence that the president misled Americans when he said in 2009 that, “if you like your health plan, you will be able to keep your health plan." 

On Monday, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he had "heard from hundreds of my constituents who are seeing their premiums rise, they’re seeing their policies being canceled."

"Many, again, are losing their plans," Boehner continued.

But the White House has downplayed the significance of this turnover, noting that individuals rarely purchase the same plan for their own health insurance from year to year. 

A study by Health Affairs cited by The Washington Post found that just 17 percent of individual market subscribers purchased the same policy for two or more years.

The administration also argues that those who must find a new plan will choose from a menu of options providing better coverage. Now, coverage for things like hospital visits and birth control will be provided. And, the White House says, federal subsidies will help reduce the price of that more extensive — and expensive — coverage.