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Carney admits some Americans will lose existing plans under health-care law

Jay Carney (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters) Jay Carney (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Back in 2009, President Obama assured Americans that even under the health-care law he was pressing Congress to adopt, nothing in their insurance would change if they were satisfied with their current plan.

On Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney acknowledged that some consumers would lose their "substandard plans" and have to pay higher premiums because of the new health-care law.

"What the president said and what everybody said all along is that there are going to be changes brought about by the Affordable Care Act to create minimum standards of coverage, minimum services that every insurance plan has to provide, so that an individual shopping for insurance, you know, when he or she purchases that insurance, knows that maternity care is covered, that preventive services are covered, that mental health services are covered, that the insurance policy you buy doesn't have [an] annual limit or a lifetime limit, that there are out-of-pocket expenses capped at a maximum level, both annually and for a lifetime," Carney said. "So it's true that there are existing health-care plans on the individual market that don't meet those minimum standards and therefore do not qualify for the Affordable Care Act."

Those new requirements have prompted some insurers to raise the premiums -- in some cases, dramatically -- for people who had bought bare-bones plans on the individual market.

Carney noted that a minority of consumers find themselves in this position, since "Eighty-plus percent of the American people already get insurance through their employer, through Medicare or through Medicaid." When asked, he did not specify how many people are affected in this way, instead referring that question to the Department of Health and Human Services.

"It's correct that substandard plans... are no longer allowed because the Affordable Care Act is built on the premise that health care is not a privilege, it's a right, and there should be minimum standards for the plans available to Americans across the country," he added.

While many consumers are grandfathered under the law, there are two exceptions: people who signed up for a plan after the law was enacted in 2010, or those whose plans changed significantly. There is significant turnover in the individual market, according to several studies, with anywhere from 40 to 67 percent of consumers leaving their plan within one or two years.

In an e-mail White House spokeswoman Jessica Santillo wrote, “The law allows plans that covered people at the time the law was enacted to continue to offer that same coverage to the same enrollees – nothing has changed and that coverage can continue into 2014.  One of the main goals of the law is to ensure that people have insurance they can rely on – that doesn’t discriminate or charge more based on pre-existing conditions."

Santillo noted that some consumers are getting notices urging them to renew their minimalist plans now, before the next stage of the law kicks on on Jan. 1, when nearly half of them would qualify for subsidies so they could purchase more robust plans. "The consumers who are getting notices are in plans that do not provide all these protections – but in the vast majority of cases, those same insurers will automatically shift their enrollees to a plan that provides new consumer protections" and the subsidies, she added.

In his June 2009 remarks to the American Medical Association, Obama assured the audience, "And that means no matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period."

As the audience applauded, the president continued. "If you like your health-care plan, you'll be able to keep your health-care plan, period," prompting another round of applause. "No one will take it away, no matter what."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) spokesman Don Stewart sent an e-mail to reporters laden with italics Monday afternoon, questioning whether the president had kept his 2009 promise.

"Remember: The President didn’t say if you like your plan and we approve it you can keep it," Stewart wrote. "He promised that if you like your plan, you can keep it, period—“no matter what.”

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's White House bureau chief, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.

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