President Barack Obama says he’ll do everything he can to help people coping with health insurance cancellations, but legally and practically, his options appear limited.
That means the latest political problem engulfing Obama’s health care overhaul may not be resolved quickly, cleanly or completely.
White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest said Friday that the president has asked his team to look at administrative fixes to help people whose plans are being canceled as a result of new federal coverage rules. Obama, in an NBC interview Thursday, said “I am sorry” to people who are losing coverage and had relied on his assurances that if they liked their plan, they could keep it.
The focus appears to be on easing the impact for a specific group: people whose policies have been canceled and who don’t qualify for tax credits to offset higher premiums. The administration has not settled on a particular fix, and it’s possible the final decision would apply to a broader group.
Still, a president can’t just pick up the phone and order the Treasury to cut checks for people suffering from insurance-premium sticker shock. Spending would have to be authorized by law.
Another obstacle: Most of the discontinued policies appear to have been issued after the law was enacted, according to insurers and independent experts. Legally, that means they would have never been eligible for cancellation protections offered by the statute. Its grandfather clause applies only to policies that were in effect when the law passed in 2010.
More than five weeks after open-enrollment season started for uninsured Americans, Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement still is struggling. Persistent website problems appear to have kept most interested customers from signing up. Repairs are underway. Friday the administration said the website’s income-verification component will be offline for maintenance until Tuesday morning.
Website woes have been eclipsed by the uproar over cancellation notices sent to millions of people who have individual plans that don’t measure up to the benefits package and level of financial protection required by the law.