Obama to People With Canceled Plans: 'Just Shop Around in the New Marketplace'

The president addresses the controversy over people losing their old plans.
Brian Snyder/Reuters

Speaking in Boston Wednesday afternoon, President Obama addressed the issue of people losing their current insurance plans head on, encouraging them to use online exchanges to find new plans.

"Almost all the insurers are encouraging people to join better plans with the same carrier and stronger benefits and stronger protections," he said during remarks on the Affordable Care Act delivered at Faneuil Hall, "while others will be able to get better plans with new carriers through the marketplace, and that many will get new help to pay for these better plans and make them actually cheaper."

If that's not exactly what people have being hearing in the press, Obama said it was because of people who "leave that stuff out" and are "being grossly misleading, to say the least," about the effects of his signature legislation.

"If you're getting one of these letters [canceling a plan], just shop around in the new marketplace. That's what it's for," Obama said. Of course, getting new plans through the exchanges so far has been easier said than done: As Obama spoke, the Healthcare.gov site was not usable due to a Verizon data hosting problem.

The remarks were Obama's first public response to the furor over his many statements telling insured Americans if they liked their health insurance, they could keep it even after the Affordable Care Act too effect. His assurance has turned out to come with some pretty big caveats—more like if you like your insurance and your insurer chooses to keep offering it and doesn't make any significant changes to the plan that would trigger HHS rules requiring further changes, then you can keep it.

But the affable Obama on display in Boston was a far cry from the more miffed chief executive who a few weeks ago stood in the Rose Garden and described the rollout of Healthcare.gov as frustratingly unacceptable. He wasn't backing down or apologizing this time.

Here's the section of his speech on what's been happening in the existing individual-insurance market:

Now it is also true that some Americans who have health insurance plans that they bought on their own through the old individual markets are getting notices from their insurance companies suggesting that somehow because of the Affordable Care Act, they may be losing their existing health insurance plans. This has been the latest flurry in the news.

There's—because there's been a lot of confusion and misinformation about this, I want to explain just what's going on.

One of the things health reform was designed to do was to help not only the uninsured but also the underinsured. And there are a number of Americans, fewer than 5 percent of Americans, who've got cut-rate plans that don't offer real financial protection in the event of a serious illness or an accident.

Remember, before the Affordable Care Act, these bad apple insurers had free rein every single year to limit the care that you received or used minor pre-existing conditions to jack up your premiums or bill you into bankruptcy. So a lot of people thought they were buying coverage, and it turned out not to be so good.

Before the Affordable Care Act, the worst of these plans routinely dropped thousands of Americans every single year. And on average, premiums for folks who stayed in their plans for more than a year shot up about 15 percent a year. This wasn't just bad for those folks who were—had these policies; it was bad for all of us, because, again, when tragedy strikes, and folks can't pay their medical bills, everybody else picks up the tab.

Now if you had one of these substandard plans before the Affordable Care Act became law and you really liked that plan, you were able to keep it. That's what I said when I was running for office.

That was part of the promise we made.

But ever since the law was passed, if insurers decided to downgrade or cancel these substandard plans, what we said under the law is, you've got to replace them with quality, comprehensive coverage because that too was a central premise of the Affordable Care Act from the very beginning.

And today that promise means that every plan in the marketplace covers a core set of minimum benefits, like maternity care and preventive care and mental-health care and prescription drug benefits and hospitalization, and they can't use allergies or pregnancy or a sports injury or the fact that you're a woman to charge you more. They can't do that anymore. They can't do that anymore.

If you couldn't afford coverage because your child had asthma, well, he's now covered. If you're one of the 45 million Americans with a mental illness, you're now covered. If you're a young couple expecting a baby, you're covered. You're safer. The system is more secure for you and it's more secure for everybody.

So if you're getting one of these letters, just shop around in the new marketplace. That's what it's for ....

Because of the tax credits that we're offering and the competition between insurers, most people are going to be able to get better, comprehensive health care plans for the same price or even cheaper than projected. You're going to get a better deal.

Now, there's a fraction of Americans with higher incomes who will pay more on the front end for better insurance with better benefits and protections like the patient's bill of rights, and that will actually save them from financial ruin if they get sick. But nobody is losing their right to health care coverage. And no insurance company will ever be able to deny you coverage or drop you as a customer altogether. Those days are over, and that's the truth. That is the truth.

So for people without health insurance, they're finally going to be able to get it. For the vast majority of people who have health insurance that works, you can keep it. For the fewer than 5 percent of Americans who buy insurance on your own, you will be getting a better deal. So anyone peddling the notion that insurers are canceling peoples' plan without mentioning that almost all the insurers are encouraging people to join better plans with the same carrier and stronger benefits and stronger protections while others will be able to get better plans with new carriers through the marketplace, and that many will get new help to pay for these better plans and make them actually cheaper—if you leave that stuff out, you're being grossly misleading, to say the least.

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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