States take up the fight against Oba­macare changes

Fear pres­i­dent’s re­newal plan could send insurance premi­ums soar­ing

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

The tu­mul­tuous Belt­way fight over Amer­i­cans who lost their health plans be­cause of Oba­macare is shift­ing to the states, where reg­u­la­tors will de­cide whether to heed Pres­i­dent Obama’s pro­posal to let Amer­i­cans re­new their plans — or re­buff him to pre­serve the core mis­sion of his sig­na­ture law.

Mr. Obama kicked off a 50-state de­bate from the White House last week by de­cid­ing, through ad­min­is­tra­tion ac­tion, to let peo­ple with cov­er­age that does not meet the Af­ford­able Care Act’s stan­dards to ex­tend their plans for one year. House Repub­li­cans and 39 Democrats pushed back on his pro­posal the next day, pass­ing a bill that al­low in­sur­ers to of­fer the bare­bones plans to ex­ist­ing and new en­rollees in the com­ing year.

“Let’s face it, mil­lions of peo­ple right now have a can­celed pol­icy,” Rep. Ron Bar­ber, Ari­zona Demo­crat, said be­fore vot­ing Fri­day for the Keep Your Health Plan Act filed by Rep. Fred Up­ton, Michi­gan Repub­li­can.

The de­bate — fall­out from Mr. Obama’s oft-re­peated, yet mis­taken, vow that Amer­i­cans could keep their health plans if they liked them un­der his health care law — roiled Wash­ing­ton through­out the week. Yet as law­mak­ers de­camped from Capi­tol Hill, state insurance com­mis­sions faced tough de­ci­sions.

Insurance chiefs from at least three ju­ris­dic­tions — Wash­ing­ton state, Louisiana and the Dis­trict of Columbia — quickly spoke out against Mr. Obama’s re­newal plan, say­ing it could keep healthier peo­ple from en­rolling in the state-based health ex­changes set up un­der Oba­macare.

The ex­changes are a key pil­lar of Mr. Obama’s law. But they could fail and send premi­ums soar­ing if younger, healthier peo­ple do not sign up and bal­ance out older, sicker con­sumers who en­roll be­cause in­sur­ers can no longer deny peo­ple with pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions.

The flawed roll­out of Mr. Obama’s re­forms — no­tably, web­site glitches that pre­vent peo­ple from view­ing new cov­er­age op­tions — has in­ten­si­fied par­ti­san wran­gling over Oba­macare. Even so, at­tempts to patch the over­haul have spawned a patch­work of po­si­tions among Democrats who are try­ing to rec­on­cile their sup­port for the law with the po­lit­i­cal fall­out of its wob­bly im­ple­men­ta­tion.

In turn, their po­lit­i­cal con­cerns do not al­ways mesh with state-level at­tempts to sta­bi­lize the insurance mar­ket.

Wash­ing­ton State Insurance Com­mis­sioner Mike Krei­dler re­jected Mr. Obama’s plan mere hours af­ter the pres­i­dent’s an­nounce­ment.

Rep. Jim McDer­mott, Wash­ing­ton Demo­crat, com­mended his insurance com­mis­sioner’s de­ci­sion from the House floor on Fri­day, not­ing his state has worked hard to im­ple­ment Mr. Obama’s re­forms with a ro­bust health ex­change. But he lam­basted the Repub­li­can-led House bill for al­low­ing plans with lim­ited pro­tec­tions to be ex­tended and take on new en­rollees in the com­ing year.

“You’re go­ing to cre­ate end­less con­fu­sion in this coun­try in the insurance mar­ket,” Mr. McDer­mott said.

Sen. Mary L. Lan­drieu, Louisiana Demo­crat up for re-elec­tion next year, is push­ing a bill that would let ex­ist­ing cus­tomers hold onto their health plans in­def­i­nitely.

Yet Rep. Ami Bera, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat and a physi­cian, said Fri­day the Repub­li­can-led bill from his cham­ber was bet­ter than pro­pos­als in the Democra­trun Se­nate and pro­vided his con­stituents some flex­i­bil­ity while they browse plans on the state’s health ex­change, which is func­tion­ing rel­a­tively well.

The House passed its bill 261-157 de­spite a veto threat from Mr. Obama and ob­jec­tions from Democrats who said the leg­is­la­tion was an in­sid­i­ous at­tempt to rot the law from the in­side out by let­ting new en­rollees gain sub­stan­dard plans.

South Carolina Rep. James E. Cly­burn, a mem­ber of the House Demo­cratic lead­er­ship, on Sun­day dis­missed talk of a “re­volt,” say­ing most Democrats who backed the Up­ton bill were “in­su­lat­ing them­selves against sound bites.”

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, Ari­zona Demo­crat, voted for the bill, yet urged her state’s insurance chief to im­ple­ment Mr. Obama’s fix.

Reps. Lois Capps and Zoe Lof­gren, Cal­i­for­nia Democrats who voted against the House bill, made a sim­i­lar plea to Cal­i­for­nia Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Diana Doo­ley.

Early on, Sen. Ben Nel­son, Florida Demo­crat, urged his state of­fi­cials to im­ple­ment Mr. Obama’s fix.

“Keep in mind it is a sug­ges­tion,” he said on “Fox News Sun­day.” “It is not a rul­ing, and it cer­tainly is not a law.”

Four Repub­li­cans bucked their party and voted against the House bill, per­haps be­cause it could be viewed as an at­tempt to smooth over Mr. Obama’s con­tro­ver­sial re­forms.

Mean­while, the insurance in­dus­try is left to sort it all out.

“The ques­tion is what hap­pens. Who will join the mar­kets?” Karen Ig­nagni, CEO of Amer­ica’s Health Insurance Plans, said on Fox. “Will it be the young and the healthy bal­anc­ing out the old and the sick?”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“You’re go­ing to cre­ate end­less con­fu­sion in this coun­try in the insurance mar­ket,” says Rep. Jim McDer­mott, Wash­ing­ton Demo­crat, of the Repub­li­can-led House bill that al­lows insurance plans with lim­ited pro­tec­tions to be ex­tended and take on new en­rollees in the com­ing year. The House passed the bill Fri­day 261-157 de­spite a veto threat from Pres­i­dent Obama.

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