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State insurance chief doubts Obama's health care plan

| Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
REUTERS
U.S. President Barack Obama meets with health insurance chief executives at the White House in Washington November 15, 2013. Obama said on Friday that he and his top advisors were 'brainstorming' with chief executives from top healthcare insurance companies about how to enroll Americans in health insurance before looming deadlines under his Obamacare healthcare law.

The state Insurance commissioner cast doubt Friday on a plan by President Obama to stop insurers from dumping more than 250,000 Pennsylvanians whose medical coverage did not meet the minimum requirements of the new health care law.

Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine questioned whether Obama had the legal authority to allow insurers to reinstate or extend those policies. He also said the state has limited power to force insurers to comply with a scheme that he said “heightens confusion” surrounding the law's implementation.

“I think there are very fair questions being raised about the legal authority for the president to say we're going to ignore what's in the” Affordable Care Act, Consedine told the Tribune-Review.

The president acted to quell a firestorm over the chaotic rollout of the law known as Obamacare in proposing the administrative fix for consumers whose policies were being canceled. Many accused him of reneging on a pledge that no one would lose medical coverage if they liked it.

The president's plan to resolve the issue over cancellations requires the cooperation of insurers to reinstate or extend the policies for another year if approved by their state regulators — a move the industry says could lead to higher costs for consumers.

Consedine, an appointee of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, said he talked with the CEOs of all major health insurers operating in Pennsylvania about the president's proposal. He did not indicate whether he will approve the plan nor whether Pennsylvania insurers supported it.

“By and large, these are companies that are trying to do the right thing,” he said.

But the president is putting insurers in a tough spot where they've “got to turn around and go in the exact opposite direction,” Consedine said, which could lead to higher costs “that ultimately come back on the consumer.”

Additionally, there are concerns among insurers about potential liability of selling health plans to consumers that violate federal law, the commissioner said.

While Consedine and the state's insurers are weighing their next move, congressional Republicans pushed ahead with legislation that would let insurers sell health care policies that don't meet Obamacare requirements to anyone for one year.

Thirty-nine Democrats in the House joined GOP colleagues to pass the bill, which the White House vowed to veto.

On Wednesday, the Obama administration said 106,000 people enrolled in health plans through HealthCare.gov and state-based websites in October, far below the 500,000 enrollees whom officials had hoped to attract in the first month of operation.

Highmark Inc., the state's largest health insurer, took in about 40 percent of the Pennsylvania enrollees and said they were primarily older people — underscoring concerns of insurers that few young and healthy people will sign up for coverage.

Insurance industry officials have been cool to the idea of extending substandard policies because they were primarily purchased by younger and healthier people, who are needed to offset the cost of insuring sicker people.

“Changing the rules after health plans have already met the requirements of the law could destabilize the market and result in higher premiums for consumers,” Karen Ignagni, CEO of industry group America's Health Insurance Plans, said in a statement.

“If due to these changes fewer younger and healthier people choose to purchase coverage in the exchange, premiums will increase in the marketplace, and there will be fewer choices for consumers.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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