Obama Changes Affordable Care Act Requirements by Himself

Susan Jones | November 14, 2013 | 12:53pm EST
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President Barack Obama pauses while speaking about his signature health care law, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, at the White House. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

(CNSNews.com) - If you like your insurance plan, maybe you can keep it after all, for another year, President Obama told the American people on Thursday.

He said people may keep individual plans that haven't already been canceled; or they may buy similar ones, if they're available -- even if those plans don't meet the coverage and cost requirements of Obamacare, as the law says they must.

But insurers can't sell those old plans to new customers. That's the main difference between Obama's administrative "fix" and the legislative fix House Republicans plan to bring up for a vote on Friday.

Obama also told insurance companies who issue the old policies that they must try to steer people to the Obamacare health exchanges.

Critics pounced even before the president spoke: "There’s only one institution that can change the law: Congress," the Heritage Foundation blogged. "President Obama’s 'plan' attempts to ignore them entirely. The president’s proposal is but the latest in a long line of waivers and unilateral changes made in a futile attempt to repair an inherently unworkable law."

Obama told a White House news conference he "completely gets how upsetting" it is for Americans to get cancellation notices from their insurance companies, especially after he promised them they could keep their plans if they liked them.

"And to those Americans, I hear you loud and clear. I said that I would do everything that we could to fix this problem. And today I'm offering an idea that will help do it.

"People who have plans that pre-date the Affordable Care Act can keep those plans if they haven't changed. That was already in the law," Obama said.

"Today, we're going to extend that principle both to people whose plans have changed since the law took effect and to people who bought plans since the law took effect. So state insurance commissioners still have the power to decide what plans can and can't be sold in their states, but the bottom line is, insurers can extend current plans that would otherwise be canceled into 2014 and Americans whose plans were canceled can choose to re-enroll in the same kind of plan.

"We're also requiring insurers who extend current plans to inform their customers about two things: One, what protections these renewed plans don't include. Number two, that the (Obamacare) marketplace offers new options with better coverage and tax credits that might help you bring down the cost.

"So if you received one of these letters, I encourage you to take a look at the marketplace. Even if the website isn't working as smoothly as it should be for everybody yet, the plan comparison tool that lets  you browse costs for new plans near you is working just fine."

"Now, this fix won't solve every problem for every person, but it's going to help a lot of people. Doing more will require work with Congress. And I've said from the beginning, I'm willing to work with Democrats and Republicans to fix problems as they arise. This is an example of what I was talking about. We can always make this law work better.

"It is important to understand, though, that the old individual market was not working well. And it's important that we don't pretend that somehow that's a place that we're going back to."

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act sets enumerates certain "essential" health benefits that must take effect on Jan. 1, 2014.

"We cannot 'fix' Obamacare. The damage has been done. It’s time to start over," Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted as the president started speaking.

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