President Barack Obama says he's giving Americans who've received cancellation notices from their insurers a one-year reprieve before they have to get new policies under his health-care law.
Mr. Obama said that while the “fumbled” rollout of the federal website for buying insurance and the cancellations of hundreds of thousands of individual policies has damaged his administration's public image, he vowed to press ahead with implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
“I completely get how upsetting this can be for a lot of Americans, particularly after they heard assurances from me,” Mr. Obama said at the White House. “I'm not going to walk away” from the law, he said. “We've got to move forward on this.”
Mr. Obama is seeking to quell a potential revolt by Democrats facing re-election next year who have been urging the president to come up with a plan before the House votes on a Republican proposal that may come as early as tomorrow.
“Nobody is as unhappy as I am” about the rollout of the law, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said before Mr. Obama spoke. Democrats in the House are in agreement that “we must have a fix.”
The administration will send a letter today instructing state insurance commissioners to notify insurers that they can continue the sale of canceled policies for an additional year, according to White House officials.
“It's a good move in the right direction,” Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat co-sponsoring Senate legislation to make a similar fix, told reporters.
The extension will be available only to those already enrolled in the policies that were canceled because they didn't meet coverage standards under the health-care law. The change will be effective for one year, until the end of 2014.
Insurance companies that extend their policies must notify consumers that alternatives exist under the health-care law, including options that may include tax credits, and are required to describe the ways that their plans don't meet the consumer protections required under the law.
The extension affects only a small slice of Americans, who typically use these plans for less than a year as a stopgap policy between jobs, and is aimed at smoothing the transition into the new insurance system established by the law, according to White House officials, who asked for anonymity to describe the policy before the president's remarks.
The Republican legislation would let insurers continue selling for a year current policies that don't meet the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's requirements to new customers, which White House officials said would undermine a central principle of the health law.
House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said before the president's remarks that he is “highly skeptical” that the system can be modified through administrative measures.
Mr. Obama said he would defy Republican attempts to scuttle the law, known as Obamacare
“I will not accept proposals that are just another brazen attempt to undermine or repeal” the law, he said. “This fix won't solve every problem for every person, but it's going to help a lot of people.”
The debut of the insurance marketplace at the core of the law, Mr. Obama's signature achievement, has been marred by flaws in the federal online exchange and by the insurance cancellation letters. In the debate over the law, Mr. Obama had repeatedly promised that Americans who liked their existing insurance plans would be able to keep them.
Mr. Obama said he was “not informed directly” about how deeply flawed the website was in the weeks and days before its rollout on Oct. 1. He again apologized for assuring the public that they would see little change when the law took effect.
“There is no doubt that the way I put that forward unequivocally ended up not being accurate,” Mr. Obama said. A so-called grandfather clause that allowed policies in place before the law was enacted in 2010 was “insufficient,” he said.
“My expectation was that for 98% of the American people either it genuinely wouldn't change at all or they'd be pleasantly surprised with the options in the marketplace” and the grandfather clause would cover the rest, he said, and that turned out not to be the case.
Mr. Obama also said he couldn't guarantee that the website technical difficulties would be completely resolved by the end of the month.
“It will be a lot better but there will still be some problems,” he said.