By David Morgan and Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON Nov 5 The Obama administration,
under pressure over the botched opening of its healthcare
website, announced new efforts on Tuesday to appease hundreds of
thousands of people whose coverage is being cancelled as
insurers prepare for reforms in 2014.
Officials said many cancellation victims hear only about
costly replacement plans from their insurers and not about
options available through new online healthcare marketplaces
that can offer plans with lower, subsidized premiums. To that
end, the administration is seeking to broaden the message
consumers receive from insurers and the government.
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough urged a group of
insurance executives to tell consumers in cancellation notices
that they could qualify for premium tax credits through the
marketplaces that have been set up in all 50 states and the
District of Columbia.
"He's saying that we all need to do the best we can in
getting information that consumers need," White House spokesman
Jay Carney told reporters.
In a sign that things are already changing for people whose
policies have been cancelled, California officials announced
that a major insurer - Blue Shield of California Life and Health
Insurance Co - has agreed to allow 115,000 state consumers who
had been notified of cancellations would be able to keep their
lower priced policies through the first quarter of next year.
Under the health insurance program known as Obamacare, it is
mandatory for everyone to have health insurance or pay a fine.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed in
2010 and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.
Republicans have opposed the program, President Barack
Obama's signature domestic policy achievement, as an unwarranted
expansion of the federal government.
Also on Tuesday, the head of the federal agency responsible
for the Obamacare rollout said her staff is working on a plan to
get the attention of people whose plans have been cancelled.
"This is actually a conversation we're having today ... Is
there a way we can actively engage to reach out to people who
have been canceled?" Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told the Senate
Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee.
"Although they're cancelled, they are offered another
policy," Tavenner said. "But I think what's important for them
to understand is, it's not just that policy, it's also the
ability to go on the exchange."
The cancellations are a challenge for Obama, who promised in
2009 that under the new law, people with insurance would be able
to keep their existing plans if they wanted to.
In the face of mounting criticism from Republicans and
others, the administration has sought to minimize the issue by
saying the cancellations affect less than 5 percent of the
The new marketplaces offer consumers a flawed option in the
36 states served by the federal healthcare website,
HealthCare.gov., which has been plagued by technical problems
since it opened for enrollment on Oct. 1.
The administration had expected about 800,000 enrollees in
October and November. But the problems reduced that to a
trickle. The government will release the month's enrollment
figures next week.
Officials are racing to fix the website's problems by the
end of November in hopes that people will be able to enroll by
Dec. 15. The law calls for new coverage to kick in on Jan. 1.
During a 2-1/2 hour hearing in the Senate, even members of
Obama's Democratic party made plain their concerns.
"There's been fear, doubt and a crisis of confidence," said
Senator Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat. "What I worry
about is that there's such a crisis of confidence that people
Tavenner said the administration plans to start a four
month-long media campaign in selected markets next month aimed
at bringing back uninsured Americans, particularly young adults,
who were unable to enroll.
"Our goal is to stabilize the website this month and then we
do have a targeted plan that includes not only young people but
the large populations of the uninsured," Tavenner said.
Separately on Tuesday, two hospital operators -- Tenet
Healthcare Corp and HCA Holdings Inc -- said
HealthCare.gov's technical problems were gradually diminishing.