Obama: Insurers Can Extend Canceled Policies Into 2014

President Obama announced Thursday that insurers will be permitted to extend canceled insurance policies into 2014, due to the difficulties consumers are having enrolling in new insurance coverage through the new online marketplaces.

More coverage: Obama Offers Fix For Insurance Plan Cancellations

A transcript follows.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: … It has now been six weeks since the Affordable Care Act’s new marketplaces opened for business. I think it’s fair to say that the roll out has been tough so far, and I think everybody understands that I’m not happy about the fact that the roll out has been, you know, wrought with a whole range of problems that I’ve been deeply concerned about.

But today, I want to talk about what we know after these first few weeks and what we’re doing to implement and improve the law. Yesterday, the White House announced that in the first month more than 100,000 Americans successfully enrolled in new insurance plans.

Is that as high a number as we’d like? Absolutely not.

But, it does mean that people want affordable health care. The problems of the website have prevented too many Americans from completing the enrollment process, and that’s on us, not on them. But, there’s no question that there’s real demand for quality affordable health insurance.

In the first month, nearly a million people successfully completed an application for themselves or their families, those applications represent more than 1.5 million people. Of those 1.5 million, 106,000 of them have successfully signed up to get covered. Another 396,000 have the ability to gain access to Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. That’s been less reported on, but it shouldn’t be. Americans who are having a difficult time, who are poor, many of them working, may have a disability — they’re Americans like everybody else. And the fact that they are now able to get insurance is going to be critically important.

Later today, I’ll be in Ohio where Governor Kasich, a Republican, has expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. And as many as 275,000 Ohioans will ultimately be better off because of it. And if every governor followed suit, another 5.4 million Americans could gain access to health care next year.

So, the bottom line is in just one month, despite all the problems that we’ve seen with the website, more than 500,000 Americans could know the security of health care by January 1, many of them for the first time in their lives. And that’s life-changing and it’s significant.

That still leaves about 1 million Americans who successfully made it through the website, now qualified by insurance, but haven’t picked a plan yet. And there’s no question that if the website were working as it’s supposed to, that number would be much higher of people who’ve actually enrolled. So that’s problem number one, making sure that the website works the way it’s supposed to.

It’s gotten a lot better over the last few weeks than it was on the first day, but we’re working 24/7 to get it working for the vast majority of Americans in a smooth, consistent way.

The other problem that has received a lot of attention concerns Americans who’ve received letters from their insurers that they may be losing the plans they bought in the old individual market, often because they no longer meet the law’s requirements to cover basic benefits like prescription drugs or doctor’s visits.

Now, as I indicated earlier, I completely get how upsetting this can be for a lot of Americans, particularly after assurances they heard from me that if they had a plan that they liked, they could keep it.

And, to those Americans, I hear you loud and clear. I said that I would do everything we can to fix this problem, and today I’m offering an idea that will help do it.

Already, people who have plans that pre-date the Affordable Care Act can keep those plans, if they haven’t changed. That was already in the law. That’s what’s called a grandfather clause. It was included in the law.

Today, we’re gonna extend that principle both to people whose plans have changed since the law took effect and to people who bought plans since the law took effect.

So state insurance commissioners still have the power to decide what plans can and can’t be sold in their states, but the bottom line is insurers can extend current plans that would otherwise be canceled into 2014, and Americans whose plans have been canceled can choose to re-enroll in the same kind of plan.

We’re also requiring insurers to extend current plans to inform their customers about two things. One, what protections these renewed plans don’t include. Number two, that the marketplace offers new options with better coverage and tax credits that might help you bring down the cost.

So, if you received one of these letters, I’d encourage you to take a look at the marketplace. Even if the Web site isn’t working as smoothly as it should be for everybody yet, the plan comparison tool that lets you browse costs for new plans near you is working just fine.

Now, this fix won’t solve every problem for every person. But it’s gonna help a lot of people. Doing more will require work with Congress. And I’ve said from the beginning, I’m willing to work with Democrats and Republicans to fix problems as they arise. This is an example of what I was talking about. We can always make this law work better.

It is important to understand, though, that the old individual market was not working well. And it’s important that we don’t pretend that somehow that’s a place worth going back to. Too often, it works fine, as long as you stay healthy. It doesn’t work well when you’re sick.

So year after year, Americans were routinely exposed to financial ruin or denied coverage due to minor pre-existing conditions or dropped from coverage altogether, even if they paid their premiums on time. That’s one of the reasons we pursued this reform in the first place. And that’s why I will not accept proposals that are just another brazen attempt to undermine or repeal the overall law and drag us back into a broken system.

We will continue to make the case — even the folks who choose to keep their own plans — that they should shop around in the new marketplace, because there’s a good chance that they’ll be able to buy better insurance at lower cost.

So we’re going to do everything we can to help the Americans who’ve received these cancellation notices. But I also want everybody to remember, there are still 40 million Americans who don’t have health insurance at all. I’m not going to walk away from 40 million people who have the chance to get health insurance for the first time, and I’m not going to walk away from something that has helped the cost of health care grow at its slowest rate in 50 years.

So we’re at the opening weeks of the project to build a better health care system for everybody, a system that will offer real financial security and peace of mind to millions of Americans. 

It is a complex process. There are all kinds of challenges. I’m sure there will be additional challenges that come up. And it’s important that we’re honest and straightforward in terms, when we come up with a problem with these reforms and these laws, that we address them.

But we’ve got to move forward on this. It took 100 years for us to even get to the point where we could start talking about and implementing a law to make sure everybody’s got health insurance. And my pledge to the American people is, is that we’re going to solve the problems that are there, we’re going to get it right, and the Affordable Care Act is going to work for the American people.