Congress weighing laws to let people keep health insurance

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WASHINGTON -- As President Barack Obama signals that he will do something on his own to make good on his broken promise that Americans could keep their insurance plans if they liked them, members of both parties in Congress are proposing to do it by law.

Proposed bills in the Senate and House would stop cancellations of individual insurance policies that don't meet the health care law's requirements. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have been notified that their existing policies will be canceled, most of them to make way for new policies that meet the new law's standards.

The president said Thursday that his staff was looking into ways to solve the problem, but he gave no details. On Friday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Mr. Obama was "determined to address some of the challenges from this law," but he declined to say whether the president agreed with the congressional proposals. Mr. Earnest said the president remained "open to working with members of Congress that have a genuine interest in trying to strengthen the Affordable Care Act."

Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu introduced a Democratic version of a keep-your-insurance plan Monday. She flew Friday to Louisiana with Mr. Obama on Air Force One as he began a visit to her state.

Ms. Landrieu's bill would allow people to keep their individual health insurance plans even if they didn't meet the law's minimum standards. The plans could be kept only as long as the policyholders made scheduled payments. Her bill also would require insurance firms to tell their customers which parts of their policies don't meet the minimum coverage standards for costs of such things as hospitalization or laboratory tests.

As of Friday, Sens. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., had signed on to her bill. Ms. Landrieu, Ms. Hagan and Mr. Pryor face tough re-election races next year.

Senate Republicans proposed a similar bill last week. Introduced by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., it would allow people to keep any health care plan they had from the time the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010 through the end of this year. It has support from 42 senators, all of them Republicans.

The House will vote next Friday on its proposed Keep Your Health Plan Act. That bill would allow existing health plans on the individual market to continue next year without any penalty. The House, where Republicans are a majority, has voted repeatedly in favor of bills that would delay or repeal the health care law. Republicans said Friday that the president needed to go further than an apology to make good on his original pledge that people could keep their insurance plans if they liked them.

"I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation, based on assurances they got from me," Mr. Obama said in his NBC News interview Thursday. "We've got to work hard to make sure that we hear them, and that we're going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this."

House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said in a statement: "Actions speak louder than words. If the president is serious about offering relief to Americans whose health plans are being canceled, then he should strongly support the Keep Your Health Plan Act."

Mr. Upton, author of the legislation's House version, said there was a bipartisan effort "to allow Americans to keep the health plans they know and like, and can afford."

Ms. Hagan also warned that the administration needed to fix the law. "An apology is only helpful if it is followed by direct and meaningful action to get the Affordable Care Act working," she said in a statement. She earlier proposed a two-month extension of the enrollment period.

Mr. Earnest, the White House spokesman, said Friday that there was no plan to extend the deadline because of the malfunctioning website, where people eventually should be able to check to find insurance plans and learn whether they qualify for tax credits. Mr. Earnest reiterated that the White House has a Nov. 30 deadline to fix problems with the website, and that leaves four months during which people can enroll for insurance before the March 31, 2014, deadline.

One key question about the legislative proposals that let people keep plans that don't provide the coverage required by the law was how long they would remain in effect. If they go on forever, "you're essentially saying there are no standards to be met," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday. He said the law's standards prevent the "rude awakening" of finding out that one's insurance policy doesn't cover medical costs.


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