President Obama announced Thursday a change in one of the bedrock ideas in the Affordable Care Act that will allow people with individual insurance policies to keep them for another year, even if they do not comply with the law’s rules for minimum benefits.
The White House, responding to intensifying pressure from disgruntled consumers and Congress, decided to make the change as a strategy to try to ward off more far-reaching changes that are being advocated on Capitol Hill.
"This fix won't solve every problem for every person. But it's going to help a lot of people," Obama said in the White House briefing room.
Under the White House’s approach, the Department of Health and Human Services will notify the nation’s state insurance commissioners that they have federal permission to let consumers who already have such insurance policies keep them through 2014. It will be up to each state whether to go along.
The decision runs counter to a central aim of the law, which was to ensure that all people in the U.S. with private health plans are guaranteed at least certain benefits. According to a source familiar with the White House’s thinking, the administration will insist that insurance companies continuing to sell individual insurance policies that do not comply with those standards alert consumers to potentially better and more affordable insurance available through the new federal and state insurance marketplaces.
"Those who got cancellation notices do deserve and have received an apology from me," Obama said. "But they don't want just words."
The White House’s strategy differs from a bill on which the House is to vote Friday, sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), which would let new customers buy such meager policies, rather than only allowing existing policyholders to keep them for an additional year.
The announcement came amid intensifying pressure from both Republicans and Democrats for the Obama administration to address the various problems that have plagued the law's implementation, including technical glitches on HealthCare.gov.
Recent public opinion surveys show that Obama's image has taken a big hit against the backdrop of the problematic rollout of key components of the law. A Quinnipiac University survey released this week showed the president's job approval rating had fallen to its lowest mark since he became president in 2009.
Obama apologized last week for his long-standing refrain that all Americans could keep their existing health-care plans if they opted to do so.
"I think it's fair to say that the rollout has been rough so far," Obama said. He added that the Web site "has gotten a lot better" but work remains to be done.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that despite Obama's impending announcement, House Democrats will also pursue a legislative fix themselves.
In addition to Upton's proposal, two Senate Democrats — Mary Landrieu (La.) and Mark Udall (Colo.) — have introduced their own proposals.
The president is set to travel to Cleveland later Thursday where he will seek to turn the discussion to the economy. He will then travel to Philadelphia where he'll attend a fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
This post has been updated.