D.C. insurance chief is undecided on Obamacare exemptions

November 14, 2013

Obama’s announcement Tuesday shifted a politically precarious decision to the nation’s state insurance commissioners. (The Washington Post)

President Obama moved Thursday to address the uproar over the cancellation of millions of individual insurance policies that don’t comply with the new health care law by giving states the ability to extend existing policies through 2014 — thus shifting a politically precarious decision to state insurance authorities.

That goes for the District, too, whose insurance commissioner said late Thursday that he has not made a final determination on whether to allow D.C. residents to keep their noncompliant plans for another year. But William P. White, the commissioner, hinted strongly that opposed the idea.

“The action today undercuts the purpose of the exchanges, including the District’s DC Health Link, by creating exceptions that make it more difficult for them to operate,” White said in a statement.

He also pointed to a statement issued by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners that said the Obama order “threatens to undermine the new market, and may lead to higher premiums and market disruptions in 2014 and beyond.”

“We concur with that assessment,” White said.

Granting another year for noncompliant plans — which often have strict limits on the types of care covered and the total amount of coverage offered — would relieve the mounting political pressure against Obama, who has been widely accused of dissembling in promising that people happy with their health-care plans could keep them. But insurers and policymakers are alarmed that the shift will mean healthy people who are happy with the low-premium, high-deductible plans will opt out of the exchanges, thus increasing premiums for those who do participate.

The leading insurer trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, also warned of adverse consequences Thursday: “Changing the rules after health plans have already met the requirements of the law could destabilize the market and result in higher premiums for consumers,” said Karen Ignani, the group’s president and chief executive.

Michael Flagg, a spokesman for White, declined to comment further, including on when White expects to make a final determination. The statement said the department will be “taking into consideration the views of the exchange, consumer and community groups, other city agencies and the insurance companies as we determine the impact of this shift.”

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis · November 14, 2013