President’s Announcement Fails to Satisfy Congress, Critics

By David Cruz

In 2009, touting the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama made this statement. “If you like your healthcare plan, you will be able to keep your healthcare plan, period.”

Yesterday, acknowledging that what he said then, is not what’s happening today, Obama said: “Am I going to have to do some work to rebuild confidence around some of our initiatives? Yeah.”

The president’s glum countenance confirmed the long, arduous road he’s had to walk to get his signature legislative achievement up and running. His announcement yesterday – coming after pressure from his own party to do something – failed to clarify much for health insurance providers or health insurance customers. Congressman Frank Pallone, one of the architects of the ACA, tried to explain – again – that having your plan cancelled is potentially a good thing.

“I think people need to understand that these old policies often provided very few benefits at a higher cost than what they can buy now under the Affordable Care Act,” he said today. “In other words, before they renew these policies, if they are offered, they really need to look at the health marketplace under Obamacare or the affordable care act to see if they can get better coverage at a lower price.”

The problem with that, of course, is that getting information on line has proven to be difficult, to say the least. In Jersey, for instance of the 22,000 individuals who made it through the healthcare.gov, just 741 were able to choose a plan. Yesterday’s announcement that if you like your plan you can keep your plan, for at least another year, just added confusion to what the industry says is already a muddled marketplace.

“We’re scrambling to try to figure out what this may mean in New Jersey and national carriers are trying to figure out what it means nationally,” said Ward Sanders, President of the New Jersey Association of Health Plans. “There’s going to be enormous challenges … to be able to offer coverage for which there’s no rates filed and the carriers had not been planning to operate a separate line of business for.”

Sanders says it’s hard to say if it’s even possible within the month-and-a-half window to re-insure those who’ve gotten cancellation notices. Ultimately, the state’s Department of Banking and insurance will be the agency to determine whether New Jersey even complies with the rule change. After all, it’s voluntary. Today, a spokesman for the department issued a statement saying they’re “reviewing information regarding ACA implementation … outlined by the president yesterday.”

Not exactly an enthusiastic expression of cooperation. Meanwhile, today’s house vote would only makes matters worse, says Pallone.

“To let these old skeletal policies that don’t provide much benefits continue to operate at all may not be a good thing, but to let more people buy them I think is a huge mistake,” he asserted.

The moral of this story may be never make a promise you can’t keep, even if you think you can keep that promise when you make it. In the meantime, confusion and frustration are the ailments for which no one seems to have a cure.