CMS Official on Obama Pledge: ‘Law Contained Provisions That Enabled That to Be True’

November 20, 2013 - 3:09 PM

 

Gary Cohen

CMS Deputy Administrator Gary Cohen (CNSNews.com)

(CNSNews.com) – During a Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee hearing on the Affordable Care Act, CMS Deputy Administrator Gary Cohen said Wednesday that provisions in the law “enabled” to be true President Barack Obama’s pledge that “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it.”

“I believed that the law contained provisions that enabled that to be true, but it also is a private market solution, so it is not government-mandated health care,” said Cohen, deputy administrator and director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service, when Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) asked whether Cohen believed Obama’s pledge.

“The law provides that issuers could continue plans as grandfather plans as long as they wanted to into the future, and so the law was designed to enable what the president said to be true, and it really was up to the insurance industry to make decisions as they have in the past,” Cohen said.

“Let me explore that. My bill, If You Like Your Health Care Plan You Can Keep It Act, uses the president’s exact same language in the bill. The problem with the president’s— the grandfather clause in the Affordable Care Act said yeah, you can keep your plan as long as you totally change it,” Johnson said.

“What we did is we took out the as long as you totally change it. We didn’t force some of those health— those initial essential health benefits onto those plans, so the fact of the matter is: you couldn’t keep your plan unless you changed it,” Johnson added.

“I believe that the law provided an opportunity for insurance companies to have grandfathered plans, which would make the president’s promise to be true, and it was also true that the large, majority of Americans who have employer-sponsored coverage through large employers were also able to keep their plans,” Cohen said when Johnson asked again whether he believed Americans could keep their insurance plan if they wanted to.

“There’s nothing in the law that requires anybody to lose their doctor,” Cohen said when asked if he believed everyone would be able to keep their health plan and doctor if they wanted.

When Johnson pressed Cohen to answer whether he believed the president’s promise, Cohen said, “I believed that the law contained provisions that enabled that to be true, but it also is a private market solutions, so it is not government-mandated health care. It’s up to insurance companies what products they offer in the marketplace.”

“Insurance companies were given the option, the ability to maintain the existing plans as grandfathered plans, and if they do that, people are able to keep those plans,” Cohen added.

“Are you surprised millions of Americans are losing their health care plan?” Johnson pressed Cohen again.

“I’m not surprised or unsurprised. I didn’t have an opinion as to what the market would do. I knew what the law provided,” Cohen responded.

The entire transcript appears below:

Johnson: When did you realize that what the president was saying that if you like your health care plan you can keep your health care plan, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor period. When did you—did you believe that ever?

Cohen: The law provides that issuers could continue plans as grandfather plans as long as they wanted to into the future, and so the law was designed to enable what the president said to be true, and it really was up to the insurance industry to make decisions as they have in the past.

Johnson: Let me explore that. My bill, If You Like Your Health Care Plan You Can Keep It Act, uses the president’s exact same language in the bill. The problem with the president’s— the grandfather clause in the Affordable Care Act said yeah, you can keep your plan as long as you totally change it. What we did is we took out the as long as you totally change it. We didn’t force some of those health— those initial essential health benefits onto those plans, so the fact of the matter is: you couldn’t keep your plan unless you changed it.

Cohen: Grandfathered plans are not subject to the essential health benefit requirement.

Johnson: But there are other things they are subject to: guaranteed issue, maximum—no lifetime maximum—

Cohen: No, they’re not subject to guaranteed issue. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. You can’t add more people onto a grandfathered plan under the law.

Johnson: I’m not asking to add more people.

Cohen: Well guaranteed issue, that’s what you’re talking about.

Johnson: Okay, lifetime maximums. We’ll get you the list of the changes required in that grandfather clause, cause we extracted that in my bill, but anyway, getting back to my question: Did you believe that if people liked their health care plan they’d be able to keep it across the board, that nobody would lose their health care plan if they wanted it?

Cohen: I believe that the law provided an opportunity for insurance companies to have grandfathered plans, which would make the president’s promise to be true, and it was also true that the large, majority of Americans who have employer-sponsored coverage through large employers were also able to keep their plans.

Johnson: But every American? I mean, for example, did you realize that state high-risk pools like in Wisconsin that covers 22,000 Wisconsinites, did you believe those things would still be available after the implementation of Obamacare?

Cohen: Before the Affordable Care Act, every American wasn’t able to keep his or her health plan, cause you could lose it if you got sick—

Johnson: That’s not what we’re talking about. We are talking about the promise made that if you like your health care plan, you can keep it. I’ve got a couple in Wisconsin, both cancer victims that have been dropped, will be dropped from the high-risk pool, because it becomes obsolete January 1st. You knew that as a health care expert, correct?

Cohen: The law did not require states to drop their high-risk pools, the law allows states to continue their high risk pools, so I don’t think that was a requirement of the law, that was a decision that was made by the state of Wisconsin.

Johnson: But you knew those things would be gone.

Cohen: No.

Johnson: You really believed that every American would be able to keep their health care plan and their doctor? You believed that to be a true statement?

Cohen: There’s nothing in the law that requires anybody to lose their doctor.

Johnson: I’m just asking you whether you believed that.

Cohen: I believed that the law contained provisions that enabled that to be true, but it also is a private market solutions, so it is not government-mandated health care. It’s up to insurance companies what products they offer in the marketplace. Insurance companies were given the option, the ability to maintain the existing plans as grandfathered plans, and if they do that, people are able to keep those plans. That’s a choice—

Johnson: Are you surprised millions of Americans are losing their health care plan? Are you surprised by that? Are you surprised? Just yes or no? Are you surprised millions of Americans are losing their health care plan?

Cohen: I’m not surprised or unsurprised. I didn’t have an opinion as to what the market would do. I knew what the law provided.