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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
And I'm Linda Wertheimer. The turmoil over the Affordable Care Act is reaching new heights this week. Both the White House and members of Congress are feeling the heat over cancellation notices going out to people who buy their own health insurance policies - this, despite the president's promise that they could keep those old policies when Obamacare was implemented. Calls to fix the problem are getting louder, and coming from all sides.
INSKEEP: But as NPR's Julie Rovner reports, turning back the clock on health insurance cancellations is harder than it sounds.
JULIE ROVNER, BYLINE: Republicans have been blasting the president for weeks now, for breaking his promise about people being able to keep their insurance policies. On Friday, the GOP-led House will vote on a bill called the Keep Your Health Plan Act. What's changing is that now, Democrats are starting to join the chorus. Last week, it was Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who's facing a tough re-election bid next fall.
SEN. MARY LANDRIEU: We said to people: If you had insurance that you liked, you could keep it. We didn't say: If you had insurance that you liked that didn't meet the minimum standards or met the minimum standards, you could keep it. We just said - and the president said over and over - if you have insurance, and you like the insurance you have, you can keep it. That's the single focus of my bill.
ROVNER: And yesterday, former President Bill Clinton - who's been dubbed the explainer-in-chief for the health law - added his backing, in an interview with the online magazine Ozy.com.
(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: I personally believe, even if it takes a change in the law, the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people, and let them keep what they've got.
ROVNER: Even President Obama himself has hinted that he wants to do something about the problem of people getting their policies canceled. Here he is in an interview last week with NBC's Chuck Todd.
(SOUNDBITE OF NBC BROADCAST)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I am deeply concerned about it, and I've assigned my team to see what we can do to close some of the holes and gaps in the law.
ROVNER: So far, though, the administration hasn't proposed anything specific for those people in the individual insurance market getting cancellation notices. And there's a good reason for that, say experts like health industry consultant Robert Laszewski. The bottom line is that it's simply too late to uncancel those canceled policies.
ROBERT LASZEWSKI: It's not at all feasible. It would be wonderful. I'm one of the people who got my policy canceled. I would like to keep it. But we can't get that fix in place in 45 days.
ROVNER: Meaning between now and Jan. 1st, when the new standards under the Affordable Care Act kick in. Laszewski said the insurance industry has literally spent most of the past year getting ready for this. They've rewritten policies, gotten them approved by state regulators, and found and updated information with their policyholders.
LASZEWSKI: Even if you decide to go never mind about all these cancellations, how is the insurance company going to send out letters to all these people within the space of a couple of weeks, re-jigger all of their computer systems that took months to redo in the first place, and get these people to decide whether they want to try for Obamcare - which is the only place they can get subsidies - or try to stay on their own policies?
ROVNER: Joel Ario, a health industry consultant who used to run the federal government's health exchange program, isn't quite so negative. He says in California, just this week, two insurers have agreed to continue to offer existing plans - at least, temporarily. But that's a bit of a different situation, he says. They settled with the state's insurance commissioner.
JOEL ARIO: Their earlier cancellations were not proper under California law, and they are extending their policies; in one case, a couple months, and in another case, three months. So clearly, it can be done by the carriers - to extend current coverages.
ROVNER: But he says if the insurance companies did everything correctly, it wouldn't be fair to them to require them to extend their current policies at their current rates.
ARIO: If they were going to continue coverages, they would ask for a rate increase. Typically, on the individual market, there are significant rate increases on a year-to-year basis.
ROVNER: But many people, Ario notes, would actually do better financially in the exchanges with a tax credit than in their current policy with an inflation increase. They just don't realize that because they haven't been able to get on the website yet to see.
ARIO: Many of the people would probably find a better deal in the exchanges, once the website is up and working.
ROVNER: Which brings the question back to where it's been since October: Can the federal government get its balky website up and running at full strength fast enough for a critical mass of those canceled policyholders to figure out they might be OK after all?
Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.
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