A variety of congressional Democrats told the White House yesterday that they don’t want to support Rep. Fred Upton’s (R-Mich.) “Keep Your Health Plan Act,” but they want something to address the cancelations issue. Either the White House gives them an alternative or Dems will splinter further.
Right on cue, President Obama announced his own regulatory fix, intended to help the sliver of the population adversely affected through the individual market. Jonathan Cohn explains how the policy “puts some rhetorical pressure on insurers to reconsider cancellations.”
Insurers already had the right to extend existing insurance plans, for up to one year, even if those plans did not comply with Obamacare regulations. But they had to do so by the end of December – even if an insurance plan was scheduled to expire later next year. Under the new guidance the Administration is issuing on Thursday, plans can renew expiring plans at any time in calendar year 2014. Not all plans expire on December 31. A decent-sized group expires in July, for example. This is a chance for insurers to give folks on those plans an extra year before adjusting to the new insurance market.The unknown here is whether insurers will revisit and renew policies they already cancelled.
Ezra Klein added that under Obama’s approach, insurers that extend these existing policies will have to send consumers letters explaining why the plans fall short of Affordable Care Act standards, and what options may be available through exchange marketplaces. “This doesn’t really ensure anyone can actually keep their plan – which means it also doesn’t affect premiums in the exchanges,” Ezra said. “But it makes it easier for Democrats to blame insurers for canceling these plans.”
Among the stakeholders, yesterday it was congressional Democrats running around with their hair on fire, but today’s it’s insurers who are furious. There’s a risk in making insurance companies unhappy at this point, but for the White House, they’re not the ones Obama is worried about most right now.
As for the politics, the president and his team are probably pleased by the reactions from lawmakers. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who’s led the charge for changes in the Senate, is “encouraged” by the Obama fix, and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) “applauded” Obama’s announcement, endorsing the idea of pushing the onus onto insurers.
While most Republicans still aren’t impressed – imagine that – it’s worth noting that Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) seemed pleased. “I think it’s a step in the right direction,” the Tennessee senator told reporters. “I’m glad the president has taken this step…. It’s a good move and I’m glad that it’s occurring.”
In other words, if Obama hoped to change the trajectory of the fight after yesterday’s unpleasantness, it seems to have had at least some of the intended effect.
As for the president’s presentation, which is obviously far less important than the substance and policy dynamic, I’ve been told Beltway pundits were unimpressed with Obama’s statement and press conference. That surprises me because I had the opposite reaction – Obama’s tone and demeanor struck me as practically perfect. He took responsibility and vowed to make things right – with no excuses, no finger-pointing, no defensiveness, and no whining. Pundits’ criticisms notwithstanding, I thought he delivered today’s message the way it needed to be delivered.
Update: A transcript of today’s event is online here.