Obama offers fix for Obamacare

Updated: Thursday, November 14 2013, 01:04 PM CST
Obama offers fix for Obamacare story image

WASHINGTON
(AP) -- A Democratic official says President Barack Obama has decided to
allow the sale of canceled individual health insurance policies to
existing customers, part of a plan to satisfy public discontent with
"Obamacare."

Obama set a late morning White House announcement.

The
official said the administration's one-year plan is to let insurers
continue to offer plans that had been canceled because they did not meet
coverage standards under the health care law.

The
official says insurance companies must also notify policyholders that
alternatives exist under Obama's health care program, and have to
describe the areas in which their own plans fall short of coverage
requirements in the law.

The official spoke on
condition of anonymity because this person lacked authority to speak
publicly ahead of a formal announcement.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

President
Barack Obama on Thursday planned to announce a fix to counter the
millions of health coverage cancellations going to consumers, as the
White House tried to stem Democratic impatience over a program likely to
be at the center of next year's midterm elections for control of
Congress.

At the same time, the administration
was promising improvements in a federal website so balky that
enrollments totaled fewer than 27,000 in 36 states combined. The
administration had said in advance the enrollment numbers would fall far
short of initial expectations. After weeks of highly publicized
technical woes, they did.

A paltry 26,794
people enrolled for health insurance during the first, flawed month of
operations for the federal "Obamacare" website.

Adding
in enrollment of more than 79,000 in the 14 states with their own
websites, the nationwide number of 106,000 October sign-ups was barely
one-fifth of what officials had projected - and a small fraction of the
millions who have received private coverage cancellations as a result of
the federal law.

The administration said an
additional 1 million people have been found eligible to buy coverage in
the markets, with about one-third qualifying for tax credits to reduce
their premiums. Another 396,000 have been found eligible for Medicaid,
which covers low-income people.

Republicans were unmoved.

"Even
with the administration's Enron-like accounting, fewer people have
signed up for Obamacare nationwide than the 280,000 who've already lost
their plan in Kentucky as a result of Obamacare mandates," Senate
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said.

Administration
officials and senior congressional Democrats expressed confidence in
the program's future. "We expect enrollment will grow substantially
throughout the next five months," said Health and Human Services
Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who is in charge of the program.

"Even with the issues we've had, the marketplace is working and people are enrolling," she added.

Despite
the expressions, the White House worked to reassure anxious Democrats
who are worried about the controversial program, which they voted into
existence three years ago over Republican opposition as strong now as it
was then.

Senate Democrats arranged a
closed-door meeting for midday Thursday in the Capitol with White House
officials, who held a similar session Wednesday with the House rank and
file. Ahead of that meeting, Obama planned to speak from the White House
about new efforts to help Americans receiving insurance cancellation
notices.

So far, five Senate Democrats are on
record in support of legislation by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., to make
sure everyone can keep their present coverage if they want to. The bill
would require insurance companies to continue offering existing
policies, even if they fall short of minimum coverage requirements in
the law.

The measure has little apparent
chance at passage, given that it imposes a new mandate on the insurance
industry that Republicans will be reluctant to accept.

At
the same time, a vote would at least permit Democrats to say they have
voted to repair some of the problems associated with the Affordable Care
Act, as many appear eager to do.

In a
statement, Landrieu said Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Kay Hagan of
North Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas were now supporting the
legislation, as is Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. All but
Feinstein are on the ballot next year.

Across
the Capitol, majority Republicans in the House set a vote for Friday on
legislation to permit insurance companies to continue selling existing
policies that have been ordered scrapped because they fall short of
coverage standards in the law.

While House
passage of the measure is assured, each Democrat will be forced to cast a
vote on the future of a program that Republicans have vowed to place at
the center of next year's campaign.

Democratic
Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, who voted for the initial Obama health
care bill, said Thursday that members of his caucus want an opportunity
to go on the record in support of allowing people to keep the insurance
they had.

Doyle told MSNBC in an interview
that at a White House meeting Wednesday, House Democrats told Obama
about "the frustration level that many of us have" with the health care
roll-out.

Doyle said Democrats warned Obama
that "if you don't give us something by Friday" to fix the insurance
cancellation problem, then many Democrats are likely to vote for the
pending House bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan,
which would accomplish that goal.

The promise
of keeping coverage was Obama's oft-stated pledge when the legislation
was under consideration, a calling card since shredded by the millions
of cancellations mailed out by insurers.

Obama
apologized last week for the broken promise, but aides said at the time
the White House was only considering administration changes, rather
than new legislation.

Obama offers fix for Obamacare
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