Obama to offer fix on health care amid rumors of fix

(NBC) -  

President Barack Obama is expected to announce a patch to his signature health care law to address mounting concerns over canceled insurance plans.

Obama will deliver remarks regarding the Affordable Care Act at 11:35 a.m., the White House announced.

A senior Democratic source told NBC News that Obama would announce that those people with insurance policies that are being canceled because they do not meet Obamacare's standards will be allowed to renew them, but that insurance companies will be required to tell people re-enrolling about alternative options and the benefits they will lose.

The top House Democrat, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., foreshadowed the president's announcement on Thursday morning. 

"The president will offer a proposal today is my understanding," Pelosi said this morning at the Washington Ideas Forum at the Newseum. 

Obama's announcement comes amid mounting Democratic nervousness over canceled insurance policies, a phenomenon which conflicts with the president's often-stated vow during his sales pitch for the health care law that if consumers liked their plan, they could keep it. 

In a bid to soothe Democrats' nerves, White House officials will meet with the House and Senate Democratic caucuses this afternoon on Capitol Hill, where they'll presumably outline and argue in favor of Obama's proposal to patch the law. 

A rash of canceled policies -- primarily for consumers in the individual insurance market, whose plans are now considered sub-optimal under the new health care law's coverage standards -- have prompted growing public outrage toward Obama, for having apparently broken his promise. 

A handful of Democrats up for re-election in competitive states have signed onto various legislative proposals that would re-instate many of the canceled insurance policies. These proposals have prompted alarm, though, from many progressive supporters of "Obamacare," since a central tenet of the law involves improving minimal standards for insurance plans.

The growing discontent among Democrats remarks a stunning reversal from just a month ago, when Obama's allies in Congress were able to consistently rebuff any Republican-led attempt to delay or undo the health care law as a condition of funding the government.

And Republicans seized upon the technical malfunctions of Healthcare.gov during its first month and a half, along with examples of canceled policies to press their advantage on "Obamacare." On Friday, the House will vote on a proposal that would re-instate some of the health insurance plans threatened with cancellation, a plan which Republican leaders have sold to their rank-and-file members as a first step on the road to repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Whatever Obama announces, it will have to be creative. The whole reason for the changes enacted in the 2010 Affordable Care Act was to get rid of what the White House has called the worst abuses of the insurance industry -- caps on coverage, policies that charged women three to five times what a similar man was charged, policies that didn't pay for cancer screening.

Some of the policies that have been cancelled were very, very inexpensive -- part of the reason for the outrage among those whose policies were canceled. But insurance and health industry experts say it's because they were so bare-bones, they wouldn't have paid for much if they were ever needed. The White House keeps stressing that the new rules level the playing field a little bit, but offer most people much more in terms of coverage than what they had before.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has also pointed out that the policies being cancelled are mostly individual policies, not the big group policies offered by employers that cover most Americans. Those policies often change every year anyway, HHS says.

The fear is that is too many people are allowed to keep their older, cheap policies, they won't join the pool of people buying on the exchanges – and that'll drive up prices next year for everyone else. The more healthy people are in the pool buying policies, the more they offset the  sicker people in the pool, and the less insurance companies can charge everyone.

Price is the main concern of most Americans when it comes to buying insurance, and the Obama administration is keen to be able to say Obamacare is keeping prices low.

The uproar has caused some degree of political damage for Obama, though, whose approval rating sunk to a new low in this month's NBC News/Wall Street Journal polls. Other public polls have also suggested that the Democratic advantage enjoyed in the wake of last month's government shutdown has all but dissipated, prompting growing unrest among Democrats heading into next year's midterm election season.


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