HHS offers another Obamacare extension to avoid ‘canceled’ health plans

ImageThe Obama administration will   allow some health plans that fall short of Obamacare coverage requirements to   continue past the November elections and through most of President Barack   Obama’s second term.

 The decision, announced   Wednesday by federal health officials, extends for two years an earlier   decision by the White House to let people keep their existing health plans   through 2014, even if those plans fell short of Affordable Care Act   requirements. Under the new policy, some people could renew plans in 2016,   meaning they’d be covered into 2017.

Without the change, Democrats   worried that another wave of canceled health policies would hit just weeks   before the November 2014 midterm elections, setting off more recriminations   over Obama’s earlier pledge that people can keep their plans if they like   them. 

The new policy could have a   limited practical impact. The extension is optional for both states and the   health plans themselves. To date, only about half the states have allowed the   older, often skimpier, plans to continue. And some insurers want to scrap   them to maximize enrollment in the new health insurance exchanges. And   officials predict more Americans will migrate to the new plans, particularly   if they qualify for subsidies.

One official said the number of   people in plans that have been extended is “falling quite rapidly.”

Republicans quickly lambasted   the move as blatant 2014 politics and another sign that the administration   just can’t get the law to work.

“The Obama   administration’s announcement today that it will continue to allow insurers   to sell health care plans that don’t meet Obamacare minimum coverage   requirements is not only another reminder of the president’s broken promise   that you can keep your plan if you like it but represents a desperate move to   protect vulnerable Democrats in national elections later this year,”   Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.

The Obama administration said   the move, revealed in a conference call with senior administration officials,   isn’t politics. “The goal is to implement the Affordable Care Act in a   common-sense way and to try to provide a smooth transition for consumers and   employers,” an official said on the call.

Documents accompanying the   announcement reveal that the changes were crafted “in close   consultation” with a large contingent of vulnerable Democrats, including   Sens. Mark Warner, Mary Landrieu, Jeanne Shaheen and Mark Udall as well as   Reps. Tim Bishop, Elizabeth Esty, Carol Shea-Porter, Gary Peters, Scott   Peters, Ann McLane Kuster, Kyrsten Sinema, Ann Kirkpatrick and Ron Barber.

The changes, part of new   regulations and guidance issued by the Department of Health and Human   Services, will give some consumers an extra two years to remain on health   plans that would otherwise be canceled for failing to meet Obamacare’s   minimum coverage requirements. Many of those plans had already been given a   one-year reprieve in November 2013, but now they could be sold through 2016.   It also extends the offer to people in small group health insurance plans,   where small businesses could also have faced plan cancellations in the coming   year.

The insurance industry has   worried that the move to “un-cancel” plans could make it harder for   the new markets to succeed, and some strong backers of the law also worry.   Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), for instance, said in an interview that he’d rather   see people in the newer policies with stronger coverage.

“We’ve been through this   before. They made that decision – fine,” Harkin said. “A lot of   people say they have policies that they don’t pay very much for but I put it   this way: they’re great policies as long as you don’t get sick.”

A new rule also requires that   an Obamacare program intended to protect insurers from unexpected costs is   fully funded by the insurance industry, rather than by taxpayers. Republicans   have said that taxpayers could be on the hook for an insurance industry   “bailout” through these provisions.

The rule also outlines the   administration’s plan to implement SHOP exchanges for small businesses. The   federal one had been delayed a year. The Treasury Department also said it was   streamlining some of the paperwork for employers. 

Source: Kyle Cheney, Politico   Pro

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