Nov. 15--The president's decision this week to allow insurers to extend some current insurance plans for another year under health care reform was a balancing act, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said today in Detroit.
"The last thing he wants is people to be without coverage," she said.
"This was a balance ... recognizing that we want folks to migrate to the new market, which has much more comprehensive benefits and consumer protections," while allowing others to stay with current plans for a smoother "transition year."
The change affects a small portion of the insurance market -- those who had purchased plans on the individual or small group market but whose policies are being canceled because they don't carry the minimum coverage required under the health reform law.
In Michigan, many of those consumers have checked out other policies on the federally run health care exchange only to find pricier premiums and higher deductibles. At least 146,000 policies are being dropped.
"It's a relatively small number of people in the overall scheme of things, but for those people it's real," Sebelius said.
Sebelius has been on the hot seat in recent weeks, defending the web-based exchanges -- most run by the federal government -- which have been plagued by technical glitches since they launched Oct. 1.
The decision, she said, allows a smoother "transition year" as consumers try to navigate the most sweeping consumer provision of the 2010 Affordable Care Act -- the new insurance plans available on the Michigan Health Insurance Marketplace and other state exchanges.
Sebelius stopped by the Community Health and Social Services (CHASS) Center, a community center and health clinic in southwest Detroit to bring attention to one-on-one assistance for consumers to navigate the new system -- the same week that the White House released a report of the low enrollment so far and a day after President Barack Obama announced that consumers set to lose their health plans Jan. 1 under the law might be able to keep them after all.
It was unclear whether insurers and state regulators would go along with the change, but Obama and other Democrats have been criticized in recent weeks for saying people who liked their current health care policies could keep them.
In Washington, an insurers group argued that the change possibly could force premiums higher in 2015. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners warned that the changes at this late date -- after cancellation notices have gone out and rates for 2014 largely set factoring in the new law -- threatens to undermine the market for currently uninsured people required to get coverage under the act.
Sebelius also once again defended the www.healthcare.gov website, saying that contractors responsible for building different portions of it gave the White House a green light in late September.
"We always knew that any new, very complicated insurance integration site would be not bug-free, that we'd have some problems," she said.
Still, she added: "Nobody, I think, ever anticipated this level of problems that were particularly plaguing the site in early and mid-October. It is significantly better now."
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