Obama 'Sorry' Some People Losing Health Coverage

FRIDAY Nov. 8, 2013 -- President Barack Obama said he's "sorry" some Americans are losing their insurance coverage as a result of his signature health-reform law, but his administration is pressing ahead with the law's implementation.

That implementation includes a barrage of fixes to the troubled HealthCare.gov website.

It's estimated that 5 percent of Americans have individual health insurance policies, and many of these people are receiving cancellation notices as insurers switch to plans that comply with new health-reform requirements.

Asked about his promise that people who like their health-care coverage can keep it, Obama on Thursday told NBC News: "I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me. We've got to work hard to make sure that they know we hear them and we are going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this."

The president's admission followed a week of turmoil over the continued rollout of the Affordable Care Act, his signature domestic policy achievement.

Starting in 2014, the law is intended to help 30 million people get health insurance. It is also designed to protect all Americans from abusive health insurance practices, like being dropped from coverage due to pre-existing health conditions.

Under the law, most Americans must have health insurance coverage or pay federal tax penalties.

The administration insists that the federal health insurance website, HealthCare.gov, will be "running smoothly" for a majority of Americans by Nov. 30. The site is where consumers in 36 states can shop for insurance plans that best suit them. The remaining 14 states and the District of Columbia run their own sites, and they've reported fewer problems.

But nearly six weeks after its Oct. 1 launch, fixes to HealthCare.gov continue day and night, the administration reported. And the health-reform law, sometimes referred to as Obamacare, continues to face intense scrutiny. In the past week:

  • U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Marilyn Tavenner appeared before two separate Senate committees, responding to pointed questions on health policy cancellations, continuing snafus with the federal health insurance website and concerns about data security.
  • House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., subpoenaed CMS to provide data on enrollment in the new health insurance exchanges by the close of business on Friday, Nov. 8.
  • Internal Obama administration memos released by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee described confusion and chaos behind the screens of the troubled roll-out, ABC News reported.
  • A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate would delay implementation of the so-called "individual mandate" for insurance coverage for one year. But a letter to members of Congress from the American Academy of Actuaries warned that delaying the mandate or extending the open-enrollment period could increase health insurance premiums in 2015.
  • The CMS reconfigured its information technology response so that multiple teams of experts can make repairs on the HealthCare.gov website simultaneously, Julie Bataille, director of CMS' Office of Communications, said at a news briefing on Thursday.

Next Wednesday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hear from the administration's information technology experts. One issue that's likely to come up: the security of Americans' private information.

Documents released by the oversight committee indicate that HealthCare.gov went live Oct. 1, despite insufficient privacy testing.

"For an online system like an exchange that captures highly sensitive information -- like Social Security number, address, income -- data security is of the utmost importance," said Kev Coleman, head of data research and security at HealthPocket, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based website operator that ranks health insurance plans.

"My advice for consumers who are watching this process is they should wait for a public announcement of the completion of all security testing of the exchange prior to providing confidential information within the system," he said.

But people still need to comparison shop to find the best health plan, and they can do that within and outside of the exchange, Coleman added.

Mark Colwell, director of consumer marketing at Chicago-based GoHealth, which operates an online health insurance portal, agreed that consumers should not wait to review their options.

"It's honestly too hard to tell if all of the [federal government's] technology issues will be solved by the end of the month, so we'll be focused on helping people choose the best plan option and get them ready to enroll when it's available," he said.

More information

Read The Commonwealth Fund report for more on Americans' experience with the new health insurance exchanges.

Posted: November 2013


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