Ex­ec­u­tive au­thor­ity ques­tions raised

Move likely to be legally chal­lenged

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY STEPHEN DINAN

power to uni­lat­er­ally halt de­por­ta­tions of young il­le­gal im­mi­grants and in­stead granted them le­gal sta­tus and work per­mits.

“HHS will be us­ing its en­force­ment dis­cre­tion to al­low for this tran­si­tion,” said an ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial brief­ing re­porters ahead of Mr. Obama’s an­nounce­ment. “En­force­ment dis­cre­tion can be used gen­er­ally in tran­si­tions, as well as a bridge to­wards leg­is­la­tion.

Con­ced­ing that he has “fum­bled” the roll­out to his sig­na­ture health care re­form law, Pres­i­dent Obama on Thurs­day said he will use ex­ec­u­tive au­thor­ity to craft a se­ries of loop­holes to al­low some Amer­i­cans to keep their insurance poli­cies for at least another year.

The un­ex­pected com­pro­mise was an­nounced amid grow­ing re­volt within Mr. Obama’s own party over his bro­ken prom­ise that Amer­i­cans who liked their insurance could keep it. But it sparked another back­lash as some le­gal schol­ars ques­tioned whether the pres­i­dent had the au­thor­ity to cre­ate the loop­hole, and some state insurance com­mis­sion­ers said they would ig­nore Mr. Obama’s di­rec­tive.

That means some peo­ple in the in­di­vid­ual insurance mar­ket still will have their poli­cies can­celed.

The pres­i­dent was left with lit­tle choice but to make ma­jor changes to his name­sake leg­is­la­tion af­ter pres­sure from Amer­i­cans fu­ri­ous at the mil­lions of can­cel­la­tion notices in re­cent months and crit­i­cism from top Democrats in­clud­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton.

“I com­pletely get how up­set­ting this can be for a lot of Amer­i­cans, par­tic­u­larly af­ter as­sur­ances they heard from me that if they had a plan they like, they can keep it,” Mr. Obama said. “To those Amer­i­cans:

I hear you loud and clear. I said I would do ev­ery­thing we can to fix this prob­lem and to­day I’m of­fer­ing an idea that will help do it.”

The ad­min­is­tra­tion said it would use “en­force­ment dis­cre­tion” to halt for one year the part of the Af­ford­able Care Act that re­quires all plans to meet strin­gent cov­er­age stan­dards.

In­stead, Mr. Obama said it will be up to state insurance com­mis­sion­ers whether to in­sist that plans be can­celed or to al­low them to be is­sued.

Repub­li­cans im­me­di­ately cited the pres­i­dent’s re­ver­sal as an ex­am­ple of why Oba­macare must be re­pealed en­tirely. More im­por­tant, state insurance com­mis­sion­ers and health care in­dus­try lead­ers blasted the pro­posal; some even said they will ig­nore it.

“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,” said Karen Ig­nagni, CEO of Amer­ica’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade as­so­ci­a­tion rep­re­sent­ing the health insurance in­dus­try. “Premi­ums have al­ready been set for next year based on an as­sump­tion of when con­sumers will be tran­si­tion­ing to the new mar­ket­place. If now fewer younger and healthier peo­ple choose to pur­chase cov­er­age in the ex­change, premi­ums will in­crease and there will be fewer choices for con­sumers.”

Wash­ing­ton state Insurance Com­mis­sioner Mike Krei­dler said he will re­ject the pro­posal and “will not be al­low­ing insurance com­pa­nies to ex­tend their poli­cies.”

D.C. Insurance Com­mis­sioner Wil­liam P. White echoed those con­cerns, say­ing “the ac­tion to­day un­der­cuts the pur­pose of the ex­changes … by cre­at­ing ex­cep­tions that make it more dif­fi­cult for them to op­er­ate.”

On Capi­tol Hill, Mr. Obama’s move won praise from Democrats but didn’t end the re­bel­lion among red-state Democrats ner­vously eye­ing next year’s elec­tions.

Sen. Mary L. Lan­drieu, Louisiana Demo­crat, told re­porters she will to push for a vote on her own bill to force insurance com­pa­nies to con­tinue of­fer­ing their plans.

“I’m go­ing to con­tinue to work with lead­er­ship, I’m open to work­ing with Democrats and Repub­li­cans, if there’s a leg­isla­tive step that’s also nec­es­sary,” said Ms. Lan­drieu, whose seat is up for re-elec­tion next year.

In the House, Repub­li­cans are mov­ing for­ward with their own leg­is­la­tion that would al­low Amer­i­cans to keep their insurance plans, no mat­ter what. The White House move gives them more am­mu­ni­tion to por­tray Oba­macare as fa­tally flawed.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Repub­li­can, said the pres­i­dent’s false prom­ise has led to an ero­sion of cred­i­bil­ity in the com­man­der in chief and in his health care law.

“It’s clear the Amer­i­can peo­ple sim­ply can’t trust this White House. … Prom­ise af­ter prom­ise from this ad­min­is­tra­tion has turned out to be not true,” Mr. Boehner said. “There is no way to fix this.”

The White House said Thurs­day night it would rec­om­mend that Mr. Obama veto the House bill be­cause it would al­low in­sur­ers to sell sub­stan­dard plans.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have pitched the fix as a tran­si­tional re­prieve, even if con­sumers will be dropped again next year, be­cause they be­lieve the Oba­macare mar­ket­place will of­fer a “ro­bust” se­lec­tion of af­ford­able al­ter­na­tives.

But there are con­di­tions insurance com­pa­nies must fol­low when ex­tend­ing poli­cies.

They must de­tail for con­sumers what their re­newed cov­er­age does not cover, and they must make con­sumers aware of state-run and fed­er­ally fa­cil­i­tated Oba­macare mar­kets where they can search for higher-level cov­er­age, of­ten with the help of in­come-based gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies.

Be­yond the nuts and bolts of health care pol­icy, an­a­lysts say, Mr. Obama was driven to make the an­nounce­ment by the grow­ing re­al­iza­tion that his un­true dec­la­ra­tions were tak­ing a toll on the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s cred­i­bil­ity and on con­gres­sional Democrats who could suf­fer the con­se­quences of Oba­macare’s short­com­ings at the bal­lot box next Novem­ber.

“It’s an im­me­di­ate ad­dress­ing of a po­lit­i­cal prob­lem,” said Don­ald Tay­lor, an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor of pub­lic pol­icy at Duke Univer­sity.

Mr. Obama flatly ac­knowl­edged that there may be po­lit­i­cal fall­out be­cause of fail­ures of his law.

Af­ter cop­ping to two key “fum­bles” — the largely dys­func­tional Health­Care. gov and the mil­lions of can­cel­la­tion let­ters sent across the coun­try — the pres­i­dent ex­pressed sym­pa­thy for fel­low Democrats who voted for the law and may face the end of their po­lit­i­cal ca­reers as a re­sult.

“There is no doubt that our fail­ure to roll out the [Af­ford­able Care Act] smoothly has put a bur­den on Democrats, whether they’re run­ning or not, be­cause they stood up and sup­ported this ef­fort through thick and thin. And I feel deeply re­spon­si­ble for mak­ing it harder for them rather than eas­ier for them to con­tinue to pro­mote the core val­ues that I think led them to sup­port this thing in the first place,” Mr. Obama said.

Later Thurs­day, the pres­i­dent sounded a de­fi­ant tone dur­ing a cam­paign-style rally at a Cleve­land steel mill. He vowed to see Oba­macare through to the end and said he will not apol­o­gize for seek­ing to ex­tend health care cov­er­age to mil­lions of Amer­i­cans.

As he spoke, it be­came ap­par­ent that the keep-your-plan “fix” will cause a whole new set of prob­lems.

For­mer Vermont Gov. and Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee Chair­man Howard Dean, a physi­cian, said the pres­i­dent should have al­lowed the law to work as in­tended, and should have stood up for the prin­ci­ple to get Amer­i­cans off of lousy insurance plans and into more com­pre­hen­sive cov­er­age.

“If you want to make this work, you’ve got to be re­ally hard-nosed and tough­minded about it. He’s not go­ing to run for re-elec­tion. If this was me and my pop­u­lar­ity goes down to 10 per­cent, what the hell do I care?” Mr. Dean said dur­ing an in­ter­view on MSNBC.

Sen. Mary L. Lan­drieu, a Louisiana Demo­crat who faces a tough re-elec­tion con­test next year, said she would push for a vote on her own bill to force insurance com­pa­nies to con­tinue of­fer­ing their plans.

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