Obama health official: Insurance plans 'routinely change'

The federal official leading the rollout of the healthcare law on Tuesday defended President Obama’s promise that people with health coverage could keep it under ObamaCare.

Marilyn Tavenner, the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, was pressed by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, over the president’s promise that if you like your healthcare plan, you could keep it.

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“The president has said repeatedly, and I looked up the White House website this morning, if you like your plan, you can keep it, and you don’t have to change a thing,” Alexander said. “But in fact, the plan cancels millions.”

Tavenner said people receiving cancellation notices from their insurers make up only 5 percent of the independently insured market, and argued that those consumers are not being dropped because they could shop for a different plan.

“Yes, maybe some of those plans are more expensive,” Tavenner said.

The White House has struggled to defend President Obama’s 2009 claim that people could keep their old health insurance under ObamaCare, as thousands of people have received notifications that their insurance companies were dropping their plans.

Tavenner argued that plans “routinely change,” and that the healthcare law didn’t necessarily prompt the cancellation notices. She also said the changes would allow people to “move about” the market, which would have a stabilizing affect.

A number of the canceled plans do not satisfy the new requirements of the healthcare law, which requires providers to offer specific “essential” benefits, like free preventive care, to qualify as acceptable.

Tavenner argued that those plans that “have not changed in ways that substantially cut benefits” are “grandfathered in.” Alexander shot back that the law “effectively made it impossible to grandfather a lot of the plans.”

Republican after Republican on the committee ticked off the number of constituents in their states who had received cancellation notices.

“I think some people will probably be paying for that in the next election,” Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) said, referring to Democrats who have become increasingly nervous about the affects of the bungled rollout, on the 2014 elections and beyond.

Republicans also expressed concern that those seeking coverage wouldn’t have time to shop for new coverage because the federal enrollment site for ObamaCare isn’t expected to be running smoothly until the end of November.

Those who hope to have insurance by Jan. 1 must have enrolled by Dec. 15.

Tavenner said CMS has made substantial progress in fixing the website by adding capacity, doubling the number of servers and improving site responsiveness.

But Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.), a Democrat who faces reelection in a purple state in 2014, said the rollout was evidence the “government does not do a great job” with such complicated tech projects.

“We’re seeing that in spades here,” he said.