NEWS

House Republicans' turn to speak on health coverage cancellations

11/15/2013 01:19 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:56 EST
WASHINGTON - House Republicans will weigh in Friday on President Barack Obama's signature health care program now that the president has had his say on reversing millions of insurance cancellations.

Both the president and House Republicans have been responding to public anger resulting from cancellation notices sent out by insurers selling policies deemed substandard under "Obamacare." At least 4.2 million having gone out, according to an Associated Press survey.

The president said earlier this week he would change course and permit companies to continue to sell the plans — to existing customers only — for at least one more year.

Republicans are pushing ahead with their own plan to permit companies to continue to sell the plans to new customers as well as existing ones, and the House was expected to vote on the bill Friday.

The White House, however, said late Thursday the president would veto the legislation.

Democrats in Congress have been pressuring the president to be flexible on the cancellation issue, which is just one of the several problems hurting the health care rollout that promises to be at the centre of next year's midterm elections for control of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

"What we want to do is to be able to say to these folks, you know what, the Affordable Care Act is not going to be the reason why insurers have to cancel your plan," Obama said of the millions who have received cancellation notices. The president's shift also was designed to redeem his long-ago pledge that people who liked their coverage could keep it.

The president's change in course effectively shifts responsibility for cancellations from the administration to state insurance regulators and the industry itself.

Shortly after Obama spoke, the major industry trade group, America's Health Insurance Plans, warned in a statement that prices might rise as a result of his new policy.

"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," it said.

A few hours later, the head of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners added a fresh word of caution. Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon, president of the group, said Obama's proposal could lead to higher premiums and market disruptions next year and beyond.

"In addition, it is unclear how, as a practical matter, the changes proposed today by the president can be put into effect. In many states, cancellation notices have already gone out to policyholders, and rates and plans have already been approved for 2014," he added.

In California, where more than 900,000 cancellations have been sent out, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones called on insurers to extend the policies being scrapped.

Until the president made his announcement, the administration had been assuming that individuals currently covered by plans marked for cancellation would switch to alternatives offered in government-established exchanges. If so, they would be joining millions of others who have lacked insurance in the past.

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