States Cool On Obamacare 'You Can Keep It' Fix

President Obama tried to stanch mounting criticism of his health care law this week by announcing that state regulators can let insurance companies renew policies for 2014 that don't meet minimum requirements of the Affordable Care Act. But the change isn't sitting well with some state insurance regulators, and several say they won't go along with Obama's idea.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

President Obama has been under intense pressure to fix the bungled health care rollout, especially from people who buy their own insurance policies or have individual policies that were canceled under the law.

On Thursday, the president announced a way to make amends. He would allow state regulators to extend those noncompliant plans for another year. Some states have already said yes to the president's proposal. Others are mulling the offer.

Mike Kreidler is the insurance commissioner for the state of Washington and was the first to say, no, thanks.

MIKE KREIDLER: Well, for the state of Washington, it didn't make a lot of sense. We have a functioning exchange. We don't have the same problems that the federally facilitated exchanges are experiencing in some 36 states. And pulling back and allowing two risk pools to exist - a pool made up of the new insurance plans and a pool of those that are holdovers that were existing plans that are now being canceled - would have been very difficult for the health insurers to adequately price the products. And trying to do that would have been probably impossible. And probably, it's going to be pretty much impossible for many states too.

RATH: Well, it was part of what you had said that you were concerned that this fix, as it's being termed, about it having a negative impact on the stability of these health insurance markets. Could you explain that?

KREIDLER: Yeah. The instability would be that those rates have already been filed, plans already approved. They're out there being marketed in the state of Washington. It's very difficult now to turn around and say, we want to try to make adjustments once the rules had already been established. And it would have been very harmful to the market since carriers were likely to come back and say, we want to have higher rates, particularly in the new plans, because we are afraid some of the good risk will just stay in the existing plans that are allowed to continue for a year.

RATH: Are you concerned that people in Washington who might be upset that they were kicked off of their plans, that for them, you might be the bad guy? You're the one that got in the way of the president's fix?

KREIDLER: There's no question that I have a great deal of empathy for those people, because for many of them, they're younger, they're healthier. They don't use their health insurance much. And for them, they're looking at plans that for some of them will cost more. That really presents a real problem. And it's a problem for me to explain that to people.

Generally when I have a chance to do it and really make sure that they understand all of their choices, they generally start to say, well, it's not so bad. Now, I'm going to sleep better at night knowing I have real coverage now.

RATH: Now, you're a Democrat. You supported the Affordable Care Act, correct?

KREIDLER: Correct.

RATH: This feels like an awfully difficult position that you're in now in regards to your president.

KREIDLER: You know, I'm fully supporting President Obama. President Obama obviously is a very big supporter of the Affordable Care Act. So am I. He wants it to fully succeed. So do I. And for the state of Washington, it makes sense to not complicate the picture right now. So I think we're fully in line with each other. But for the state of Washington, it makes sense for us not to continue these canceled plans through the next year.

RATH: But with the enrollment numbers being so low as they are right now, even in Washington, you have the second highest number, for states we have numbers on, but that's still only 7,300 people. With those numbers so low, how do we get to that place that you're talking about?

KREIDLER: This is going to be a process. We've got to be aggressive in making sure people know that they have personal responsibility to have health insurance and a penalty if they don't. That getting the young invulnerable to sign up so you have a real risk pool of good risk and bad risk, that's the way we can help hold down the cost of health care and make sure people have that really meaningful coverage available to them when they need it.

RATH: Mike Kreidler is the insurance commissioner for the state of Washington. Mike, thank you very much.

KREIDLER: My pleasure. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RATH: This is NPR News.

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