Garth Kant is WND Washington news editor. Previously, he spent five years writing, copy-editing and producing at "CNN Headline News," three years writing, copy-editing and training writers at MSNBC, and also served several local TV newsrooms as producer, executive producer and assistant news director. He is the author of the McGraw-Hill textbook, "How to Write Television News."More ↓Less ↑
WASHINGTON — Facing a revolt from fellow Democrats and the American public over several million health-insurance policy cancellations because of Obamacare’s requirements, President Obama caved Thursday on a key point, saying he will let some people keep their health-care plans – for a while.
But he still fell far short of keeping his broken promise to let everyone keep their health-insurance plans if they like them, period.
The temporary fix would last a year, according to Obama.
“Insurers can extend current plans that would otherwise be canceled into 2014,” he announced.
Obama’s claimed his new idea would allow the millions of Americans whose plans don’t meet Obamacare’s minimum requirements to renew their insurance for a year while the insurance industry adjusts to new health-care regulations.
There’s a catch
“Americans whose plans have been canceled can choose to re-enroll,” the president said at a White House news conference.
But there’s a catch the president did not address: Insurance companies would have to be willing to offer those plans again. And there’s no guarantee the prices would remain the same.
“If you received one of these (cancellation) letters, I’d encourage you to look at the marketplace, even if the website isn’t working as smoothly as it should be,” was Obama’s advice to the estimated five million Americans who have lost their health insurance because of his law.
Industry leaders do not understand how the president’s plan is supposed to work.
Soon after the president’s announcement, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners weighed in with major concerns:
“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. Changing the rules through administrative action at this late date creates uncertainty and may not address the underlying issues.”
Obama is now ordering insurance companies to inform customers about what provisions will be required once this year-long grace period has expired.
The Department of Health and Human Services will notify insurance companies and state insurance commissioners they have permission to let people who have those “substandard” policies keep them through 2014. And, the administration says it will not enforce the penalty on individuals for not having eligible health-insurance plans.
The president also ducked responsibility for the catastrophic performance of the Obamacare website, saying, “I was not informed directly that the website was not working correctly.”
Now, word has come late Thursday that the White House is considering a fix to the fix.
Suddenly, the administration is considering making the temporary fix permanent.
In a fact sheet outlining the details of that plan, the White House has now announced, “HHS will consider the impact of this transitional policy in assessing whether to extend it beyond 2014.”
That is exactly what a GOP bill in the House would do. That bill is due to come up for a vote tomorrow.
There was already speculation that with his announcement Thursday, Obama appeared to be heading off a vote on a bill that would ensure Americans could indefinitely keep their health plans.
Now, it appears the administration may be hedging it’s bets, in case public opinion strongly swings in favor of allowing people to keep their plans.
Is this ‘Mission Impossible’?
The Republicans’ leading critic of Obamacare said the president is trying to do the impossible.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said, “We cannot ‘fix’ Obamacare. The damage has been done, as millions of Americans have already been made to pay higher premiums and lose their jobs, wages and health-care plans.”
Cruz said it was time to repeal and replace the health-care law, and noted it was only a few weeks ago that “President Obama refused to consider any changes to Obamacare, forcing the government to shut down for 16 days.”
“Today, he made a 180-degree turn and announced a plan that, sadly, is too late for the more than 5 million Americans who have already received cancellation notices from insurance companies notifying them the plans they had are no longer available due to explicit provisions in Obamacare that made them illegal,” the senator concluded.
Cruz said the president’s fix can’t undo the damage and is only designed “to mitigate his party’s political pain.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Obama’s fix was “the clearest acknowledgment yet that his oft-repeated pledge ‘if you like your plan, you can keep it’ was false all along.”
GOP tax-reform advocate Grover Norquist sensed a decidedly political motive behind the president’s move to let people keep their plans for just one year, tweeting, “Newspaper Headline that explains everything you need to know: ‘Obama’s fix: Canceled health plans may be offered until after midterms.’”
Galen Institute President Grace-Marie Turner told WND there are countless problems with Obama reversing course now. First of all, she said, Obama doesn’t have the right to make this change unilaterally.
“What the president is trying to do is once again rewrite the law through administrative fiat. He does not have the authority to do what he says he is going to do,” Turner said, noting that some congressional Democrats facing tough re-election fights next year are still looking to cement these changes through legislation.
She added, “The president today has just waved a magic wand and said, ‘Oh, we’re going to sprinkle some fairy dust and allow those policies to continue. I think it’s mostly for show because he’s getting so much heat for this collapse of a law that they really can’t fix. The house of cards is falling apart.”
The following is WND’s radio interview with Turner:
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., agreed with Cruz that “Obamacare cannot be fixed” and went a step further in her criticism, questioning the legality of the president’s move.
“A decree brought down on high from President Obama is not how the legislative process works. It is unconstitutional for the president to repeatedly bypass Congress and unilaterally change the law to fit his daily political objectives.”
Even former Democratic National Committee chairman and presidential candidate Howard Dean had the same concern.
“I wonder if he has the legal authority to do this, since this was a congressional bill that set this up,” Dean said on MSNBC.
Bachmann also questioned the president’s motives.
“President Obama’s announcement is merely a political fix for his dropping poll numbers, not an actual fix that will help the millions of Americans suffering under Obamacare,” she said.
“The president knew for three years that millions of health-care policy cancellations would occur as a result of his government-run health-care law, and did nothing about it until he read his dismal poll numbers.”
A legal expert backed up Bachmann’s skepticism.
An administration official said the president will allow prosecutors to use “enforcement discretion” to allow insurance companies to keep offering health plans that violate his law.
But it is not that simple, or that legal according to Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at Northwestern University School of Law.
“It is true that the chief executive has some room to decide how strongly to enforce a law, and the timing of enforcement. But here, Obama is apparently suspending the enforcement of a law for a year — simply to head off actual legislation not to his liking,” he said.
“The ‘fix’ amounts to new legislation — but enacted without Congress,” the professor stated. “The president has no constitutional authority to rewrite statutes, especially in ways that impose new obligations on people, and that is what the fix seems to entail.”
Indeed, just as Bachmann referred to the president’s plummeting poll numbers, a Quinnipiac poll this week found a majority of American voters, 52 percent, believe “Obama is not honest and trustworthy.”
The president’s sudden change of heart also comes as Democrats have begun to panic over the collapse of Obamacare.
The Washington Times reported, “In a closed-door meeting at the Capitol, House Democrats blasted administration officials over their handling of the Obamacare rollout, and the White House’s failure to address Mr. Obama’s broken promise to Americans that they could keep their health insurance plans.”
Obama promised for years that American would not lose their health-care plans under Obamacare, but after five million people did lose their plans in recent weeks, the public outcry put tremendous pressure on the president to keep his broken promise.
Even former President Bill Clinton said Obama should keep his word.
When confronted by a reporter at Thursday’s announcement as to why he misled people into believing they could keep their health-care plans, the president gave a long answer that did not directly address the question, but amounted to an admission that he wasn’t thinking about the millions of people with individual plans, only the many millions more with employer-provided plans.
He implied most people would be able to keep their employer-provided plans, but after the disaster that hit the individual insurance market, many analysts believe just the opposite.
In fact, Forbes has estimated that as many as 90 million Americans could lose their health-care plans, after the employer mandate goes into effect in 2015.
The president’s about-face is a sudden change.
Just last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified before a Senate committee that allowing insurers to go back and sell canceled policies would be unlikely to work “since companies are now in the market with an array of new plans. Many have actually added consumer protections in the last three-and-a-half years.”
But Obama was under pressure to do something because the situation just kept getting worse.
Just Tuesday, the California insurance commissioner announced that one million people in the state have now had their insurance canceled because of Obamacare.
It remains to be seen if the president’s temporary fix will decrease or increase the public outcry over the failure of Obamacare.
More losing than gaining insurance
The president is facing the disastrous irony that his plan to provide health insurance for all Americans is actually costing many more Americans to lose coverage than are getting it.
The administration announced Wednesday that only 106,000 people signed up for Obamacare in its first month, which pales in comparison to the five million who have lost coverage.
Even the paltry 106,000 number is exaggerated, as the administration used a highly unusual accounting method by counting those people who have picked a plan and put in their shopping cart but not yet paid for it. The insurance industry standard is to count only polices that have been paid for.
Making matters worse, as WND reported Monday, the state-run health insurance exchanges have reached only three percent of their target enrollments for the year.
The government had expected 1.4 million Americans to enroll in Obamacare on the state-run exchanges by the end of the year, but only a little more than 49,000 have signed up in 11 of the 14 states (and Washington, D.C.), with just six weeks to go.
This is potentially devastating news to the administration, which must sign up 7 million people by March 31, 2014, to make Obamacare financially viable.
Nancy Pelosi has her own fix
Now, even House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is offering an Obamacare fix.
She didn’t release any details but called the congressional Democrats’ plan a “belt and suspenders” solution to the mass cancellations of health insurance plans caused by Obamacare.
“I think that we’ll see in the next 24, 48, 36 hours something to the effect of how do we accommodate those people” who had their plans canceled.
Democrats who should apologize
Meanwhile, Breitbart News has compiled a list of what it called the “Top 10 Senate Democrats who should follow Obama’s lead and apologize to the American public.”
It has quotes parroting the president’s lie that people could keep their health plans under Obamacare from such well-known Democrats as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sens. Chuch Schumer, D-N.Y., Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Mary Landrieu, D-La.