Conceding that he has “fumbled” the rollout to his signature health care reform law, President Obama on Thursday said he will use executive authority to craft a series of loopholes to allow some Americans to keep their insurance policies for at least another year.
The unexpected compromise was announced amid growing revolt within Mr. Obama’s own party over his broken promise that Americans who liked their insurance could keep it. But it sparked another backlash as some legal scholars questioned whether the president had the authority to create the loophole, and some state insurance commissioners said they would ignore Mr. Obama’s directive.
That means some people in the individual insurance market still will have their policies canceled.
The president was left with little choice but to make major changes to his namesake legislation after pressure from Americans furious at the millions of cancellation notices in recent months and criticism from top Democrats including former President Bill Clinton.
“I completely get how upsetting this can be for a lot of Americans, particularly after assurances they heard from me that if they had a plan they like, they can keep it,” Mr. Obama said. “To those Americans: I hear you loud and clear. I said I would do everything we can to fix this problem and today I’m offering an idea that will help do it.”
The administration said it would use “enforcement discretion” to halt for one year the part of the Affordable Care Act that requires all plans to meet stringent coverage standards.
Instead, Mr. Obama said it will be up to state insurance commissioners whether to insist that plans be canceled or to allow them to be issued.
Republicans immediately cited the president’s reversal as an example of why Obamacare must be repealed entirely. More important, state insurance commissioners and health care industry leaders blasted the proposal; some even said they will ignore it.
“Changing the rules after health plans have already met the requirements of the law could destabilize the market and result in higher premiums for consumers,” said Karen Ignagni, CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade association representing the health insurance industry. “Premiums have already been set for next year based on an assumption of when consumers will be transitioning to the new marketplace. If now fewer younger and healthier people choose to purchase coverage in the exchange, premiums will increase and there will be fewer choices for consumers.”
Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said he will reject the proposal and “will not be allowing insurance companies to extend their policies.”
D.C. Insurance Commissioner William P. White echoed those concerns, saying “the action today undercuts the purpose of the exchanges … by creating exceptions that make it more difficult for them to operate.”
On Capitol Hill, Mr. Obama’s move won praise from Democrats but didn’t end the rebellion among red-state Democrats nervously eyeing next year’s elections.
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, told reporters she will to push for a vote on her own bill to force insurance companies to continue offering their plans.
“I’m going to continue to work with leadership, I’m open to working with Democrats and Republicans, if there’s a legislative step that’s also necessary,” said Ms. Landrieu, whose seat is up for re-election next year.
In the House, Republicans are moving forward with their own legislation that would allow Americans to keep their insurance plans, no matter what. The White House move gives them more ammunition to portray Obamacare as fatally flawed.