President Obama on Thursday announced that insurers could allow Americans whose health plans were canceled under Obamacare to keep their coverage through 2014, acknowledging the White House “fumbled the rollout” of his signature domestic achievement.
Saying that he heard the public's complaints “loud and clear,” the president admitted that the federal online marketplace had not met expectations and that millions of Americans subject to insurance cancellations deserved an apology.
“This fix won’t solve every problem for every person but it’s going to help a lot of people,” Obama said from the White House briefing room.
A contrite Obama again apologized for his repeated promise that consumers would keep their health coverage under Obamacare. With the law's new requirements, millions of Americans may be dropped from their plans and forced to seek new coverage, often at higher costs.
“There is no doubt that the way I put that forward unequivocally ended up not being accurate," he added.
The administrative change was made in response to growing concerns from Democrats, who like the White House, are on the defensive over the dropped insurance plans.
But the new measure in no way guarantees that consumers won’t face cancellations, as insurers are given sole discretion about whether to keep offering their current plans. The proposal though could give the White House an opening to shift the blame to insurance providers.
The president’s critics on Thursday dismissed the plan as a clear political ploy.
“I am highly skeptical that they can do this administratively,” Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters. “There is no way to fix this.”
The controversy, coming amid the botched rollout of Obamacare’s new insurance marketplaces, threatened to undercut public support for the president’s health care law.
The administration announced on Wednesday that 106,185 people had signed up for Obamacare insurance plans, a number well below initial projections. Fewer than 27,000 of those enrollments were through the federal online marketplace, which has been plagued with technical problems.
“Is that as high a number as we would like?” Obama said. “Absolutely not.”
The president insisted that he was not aware of the slew of problems with healthcare.gov until the website launched Oct. 1.
"I was not informed directly that the website wasn't working the way it was supposed to," Obama said.
Obama said that if he had been aware of those problems he wouldn’t have so publicly assured Americans that the rollout would be seamless.
"I don't think I'm stupid enough to say this is going to be as easy as shopping around on Amazon or Travelocity,” he said.
Republicans on Thursday blasted the president’s proposal, saying it was just a cosmetic adjustment that did little to help consumers being punished by the new health law.
Republicans on Friday will vote on their own plan to help the millions of Americans receiving cancellation notices.
A senior White House official said a key difference between the administration’s tweak and a GOP-backed proposal from Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., is that the president's blueprint would not allow new plans that don’t meet Obamacare standards to be sold in 2014.
White House officials will meet with Democrats on Capitol Hill Thursday to discuss the path forward on Obamacare.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., drafted a bill that would temporarily allow Americans to retain insurance plans issued before Obamacare became law. A separate bill authored by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., would allow consumers to keep those plans for another two years.
The cancellations and troubled healthcare.gov website have hurt the president, with Obama’s approval ratings hitting an all-time low in multiple polls.