President Obama spoke at length Thursday about his plans to address the concerns of millions of Americans who are seeing their existing insurance plans cancelled as a result of the roll-out of the last major phase of the Affordable Care Act.
Meanwhile, at the Washington Ideas Forum, White House National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling was trying not to preempt the president's announcement, scheduled for roughly the same time. The big issue facing the White House right now is how to smooth the transition for people facing cancelled plans. Two main proposals have gained currency: in the House, a bill by Fred Upton to allow insurers to continue to sell plans that people are already on, even if they don't meet ACA standards; and in the Senate, a bill sponsored by Mary Landrieu to allow people on the sub-ACA plans to stay on them indefinitely.
In Obama's remarks, he proposed a third path, one that would be an administrative rather than legislative fix: a one-year extension of the sub-ACA plans for those already on them, at the discretion of state insurance commissioners and insurers, many of whom already eliminated those plans for business reasons as they prepared for the transformed insurance markets created through the ACA.
Sperling said he did not think the Upton bill would gain currency with Democrats in the House, despite what can only be described as an environment of increasing panic over the political fallout of the botched Obamacare rollout.
"I think that obviously some of the Democrats who voted for [the ACA] are—like the president—disappointed with the start, but they still believe passionately in the mission and are staying with it," Sperling said. "And that's why I think you will see Democrats not support the Upton bill."
"What the Upton bill does," he continued, "is it says on the issue of the cancellations, not just will you ensure that somebody who's in an individual market plan today can renew, but that [insurers] can now go out in that broken individual market and try to attract new customers to it.
"That is not an effort to have a smoother transition forward," Sterling said, "that is an effort to move backwards and to build up a broken system.
"I don't think you will see support for that, because I think as more Democrats understand what is in the Upton bill, they will understand that it is not an effort to smooth the transition, it is an effort to dismantle Obamacare," he said.
The Upton bill, Sterling said, is an effort "to create an unstable pool in the market-places and to actually build up and extend an individual market which they allows you to discriminate based on gender, that allows you to kick a person off after a year if they've been ill, that allows you to shut down the entire market to people with preexisting conditions. I don't think that's the world that most Americans want to stay in or go back to."
Many House Democrats, though, are looking for something to show their constituents: a bill they can vote on, or an action they can take to improve the roll-out. And if they don't have an alternative, Upton's bill will be all that they have to consider.