WASHINGTON (AP/WJLA) - Admitting that his administration “fumbled” the healthcare rollout, President Obama made steps on Thursday in order to fix the beleaguered Affordable Care Act.
Mr. Obama said that Americans whose insurance would terminate at the end of 2013 will now be able to stay on their current plans for another year.
Obama said he had "heard loud and clear" from Americans who are facing cancellation despite Obama's repeated promises that his signature legislation would allow all Americans to keep their current insurance plan if they liked their coverage.
“This fix won't solve every problem for every person, but it is going to help a lot of people; doing more will require work with Congress," said the president.
Even so, Obama said he was not going to "walk away from" the law that would help tens of millions of Americans to afford health insurance and that has brought down the cost of health care.
"The affordable care act is going to work," Obama said at as White House news conference. "We're just going to continue chipping away at this until the job is done."
Obama also took responsibility for the severe technical problems that have crippled the federal program's website for consumers since its Oct. 1 launch.
Obama has been under enormous pressure from congressional Democrats to give ground on the cancellation issue under the health care overhaul, a program likely to be at the center of next year's midterm elections for control of the House of Representatives and Senate.
The Affordable Care Act has only enrolled 106,000 people thus far – far less than the White House’s goal of a half million enrollees in the first month. And only 27,000 of those were from the troubled federal website, healthcare.gov.
Obama and members of his administration are struggling to get his signature health care initiative right, conscious that it will have a determining effect on how history judges his presidency. Under the law, all Americans must purchase health insurance. Those who can't afford it will be offered subsidies in states that accepted federal money.
Before the president announced the fix, the speaker of the House was calling for the program to end.
"The only way to fully protect the American people is to scrap this law completely--once and for all. There is no way to fix this," said John Boehner.
The president announced the change under pressure from Congressional Democrats who feared they would have to vote for a Republican-backed bill allowing Americans to keep their coverage.
"This Republican initiative would undermine healthcare reform law by causing premiums in the marketplace to spike, according to the Center for Budge Policies and Priorities," explained Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Thursday's decision marks an abrupt reversal for Obama's administration, which had said Americans would benefit from better insurance plans than the ones that had been canceled.
Only last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a Senate panel she doubted that retroactively permitting insurers to sell canceled policies "can work very well since companies are now in the market with an array of new plans. Many have actually added consumer protections in the last three-and-a-half years."
The clunky rollout of the plan has given Republicans a new line of attack ahead of next year's congressional elections. The party hopes that will offset the drubbing it took in public opinion over last month's 16-day partial government shutdown and debt crisis, which House Republicans instigated in a failed attempt to derail Obamacare.
Officials said letters were going out to insurance companies on Thursday informing them they could continue to sell existing individual policies to current customers for 2014, even in cases of plans that had been ruled inadequate under the new law.
Insurers would be required to notify consumers that alternatives exist under "Obamacare," and also to specify the areas in which current plans fall short of the coverage required in the law. At the same time, the plans would be closed to anyone not currently enrolled.
The administration is also promising improvements in the balky federal website blamed for bringing in fewer than 27,000 in 36 states combined in October. The administration had said in advance the enrollment numbers would fall far short of initial expectations. After weeks of highly publicized technical woes, they did.
"That's on me," Obama said.
Administration officials and senior congressional Democrats expressed confidence in the program's future.
"We expect enrollment will grow substantially throughout the next five months," said Sebelius, who is in charge of the program.
"Even with the issues we've had, the marketplace is working and people are enrolling," she added.