- (Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
President Barack Obama's so-called "fix" to the problem of Americans losing their current health insurance is more like a political stunt than an actual fix to the problem.
Obama's Thursday speech was an attempt to address the controversy over his broken promise: If you like your current health care plan you can keep it, he has said repeatedly. Insurance companies, though, have been sending cancellation notices to millions of Americans whose policies do not comply with the Affordable Care Act's, or Obamacare's, coverage mandates.
Instead of canceling those plans, Obama said, insurance companies can extend those plans through 2014, thus giving another year before Obama's promise will be broken.
There is one problem, though, with Obama's "fix" – he does not have the authority to extend any insurance plan that does not comply with current law, and current law is the ACA.
Under the U.S. Constitution, laws are made by Congress, not the president. Obama's speech was only, well, a speech. There was no force of law behind it. There is no executive order directing insurance companies or state insurance commissioners to reissue canceled plans for a year. (Obama could not do that via executive order anyway.)
Essentially, Obama is asking the insurance companies to break the law – more specifically, the law popularly known as "Obamacare." The insurance companies are, therefore, left with a choice – follow the law or follow Obama.
The insurance industry's response was swift. In a Thursday press release, Robert Zirkelbach, head of America's Health Insurance Plans, the main association representing insurance companies, said that making changes to new health policies at this late date "could destabilize the market and result in higher premiums for consumers."
Additionally, if insurance companies were to rewrite insurance policies, to give customers their canceled policies back (and thus help Obama to unbreak his broken promise, at least for another year), they could not even do so based upon Obama's "permission," because insurance companies are regulated at the state level.
Obama already got pushback from Washington state insurance commissioner Mike Kreidler, who announced that his state will not go along with Obama's proposal.
"I have serious concerns," Kreidler wrote, "about how President Obama's proposal would be implemented and more significantly, its potential impact on the overall stability of our health insurance market.
"I do not believe his proposal is a good deal for the state of Washington. In the interest of keeping the consumer protections we have enacted and ensuring that we keep health insurance costs down for all consumers, we are staying the course. We will not be allowing insurance companies to extend their policies. I believe this is in the best interest of the health insurance market in Washington."
Kreidler's response is significant because he is not a Republican or conservative critic of the ACA.
Washington Post reporter Sarah Kliff, who has extensive experience covering insurance commissioners, wrote that Kreidler is "really progressive" and "one of the most liberal regulators." Kreidler, Kliff notes, was faced with the choice of supporting Obama or supporting "Obamacare," and chose the latter.
The Washington Post has a list of the states that will, and will not, go along with Obama's proposal, which will be updated as new information becomes available.
If the problem that needs fixing is that Obama promised Americans they could keep their healthcare plans but some plans are getting canceled, then the solution is to change the law and get rid of the coverage mandates that caused insurance companies to cancel plans.
The reason Obama's healthcare "fix" is so muddled, though, is that it was not designed to fix the law, but to fix the declining poll numbers of Obama and vulnerable Democrats up for reelection in 2014.