Obama to meet with insurers Friday on Obamacare fix

November 15, 2013

By Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON, Nov 15 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will meet with insurance industry executives on Friday to discuss his plan to help those seeing their current health plans canceled because of his signature healthcare law, a White House official said.

The meeting comes a day after the president, under fire for the botched rollout of his top domestic policy achievement, said health insurers could extend by at least one year policies due to be canceled because they do not comply with the new minimum requirements under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare.

The move was designed to pre-empt a push for more far-reaching changes in Congress, where the House of Representatives was to vote on Friday on a Republican bill to allow insurers to offer plans not compliant with the new law.

House Democrats said the bill would undermine the market and drive premiums up by allowing insurers to offer substandard plans to new customers, and the White House said Obama would veto it. Democrats said they would offer their own alternative.

The health law has stumbled in its early phases, first because the website designed to sign up consumers malfunctioned, and then because people complained their existing insurance policies were being canceled - something Obama had promised would not happen.

Under pressure from his fellow Democrats, Obama on Thursday acknowledged missteps and said health insurers could extend by at least a year policies that do not meet the new law's higher standards of benefits and other requirements.

But insurers and state regulators said Obama's fix will create new problems for the industry and could lead to an increase in premiums.

The meeting with insurers, tentatively scheduled for Friday afternoon, was put together after Obama spoke about his proposed changes on Thursday, according to sources.

Insurers who said they would attend include Aetna Chief Executive Officer Mark Bertolini; Patrick Geraghty, chief executive of Florida Blue; Humana CEO Bruce Brussard and Patricia Hemingway, chief executive of Health Care Service Corp. Scott Serota, president and chief executive officer of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, will also attend.

Democratic lawmakers worried the Obamacare problems could threaten their re-election bids.

In the Senate, Democrat Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who has introduced legislation to allow Americans to keep their existing health insurance plans, described Obama's announcement as a good first step but "we'll probably need legislation to make it stick."

The Oct. 1 rollout of the new health law has been beset by technical glitches with the federal online insurance website, HealthCare.gov. Obama has promised to have the website functioning smoothly for most people by the end of the month. (Reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Eric Beech)