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Obama ‘fix’ means those losing health insurance can keep policies for a year

President Barack Obama on Thursday said Americans who’d been kicked off of existing health insurance could now keep those plans for another year.

“We did fumble the ball on it,” Obama said, during a press conference in which he was alternately apologetic about the law’s implementation and defensive of its goals. “And what I’m going to do is make sure that we get it fixed.”

Obama vowed during the debate over the 2010 health care law that those who liked their health care plans would be able to keep them under his law.

But his law also set a minimum level of benefits, requiring health care plans to cover mental health, dental and vision for children, preventative and other coverage. In recent weeks, insurance companies whose plans fell short of those requirements had begun notifying consumers in the individual market that they’d be ending those plans.

Obama said he would use an administrative fix to allow people to keep the plans in question for one year, specifically by expanding a “grandfather” provision that originally protected health care policies in place on March 23, 2010 to those whose plans have changed since then and to those who bought plans after that date. Companies must also tell customers of what benefits their policies do not cover and inform consumers of options they have for better coverage through the new health care law, he said.

“The bottom line is, insurers can extend current plans that would otherwise be cancelled into 2014, and Americans whose plans have been canceled can choose to re-enroll in the same kind of plan,” he said.

The provision drew quick criticism from America’s Health Insurance Plans’ President and CEO Karen Ignagni, who said “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.”

Obama said state insurance commissioners will still have the power to decide which plans can and can’t be sold in their states. Insurers, meanwhile, will have to determine whether or not to renew plans that they would have otherwise cancelled.

Obama’s announcement came one day prior to a scheduled House vote on a Republican-sponsored bill that would allow those whose plans were cancelled to retain them if they preferred. Some House Democrats threatened to support that bill, though House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., warned that it was “very dangerous” and “completely disruptive.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, decried what he called “attempts to derail the health law,” saying it “has already benefited millions of Ohioans by ending lifetime limits on coverage and ending discrimination based on pre-existing conditions.”

Obama’s latest move comes after weeks of troubles for the 2010 law, including a website that has been riddled with problems and statistics released this week that found that just 106,185 nationally and 1,150 in Ohio have signed up for the exchanges during the first month of the enrollment period. Only 26,794 people have been able to enroll through the federal health care website – most of those who have enrolled successfully have done so through state-run websites.

Republicans – as well as Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who has introduced a bill in the Senate to restore the cancelled plans – plan to move forward with their bills, saying any fix must be legislative, not administrative.

“As creative as the president has been in using administrative action in order to change the law, including delaying the employer mandate for a year, I don’t know if he has the ability to do this without legislation,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

He and House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester Twp., renewed their longstanding calls to repeal the 2010 law.

“When it comes to this health care law, the White House doesn’t have much credibility,” Boehner said. “The only way to fully protect the American people is to scrap this law once and for all. There is no way to fix this.”

Obama stops in Cleveland

The president spoke at a Cleveland plant on Thursday that makes steel used for higher fuel-efficient cars. Obama says the comeback of the auto industry during his presidency helped the ArcelorMittal plant and saved more than 1 million American jobs.

In a bright spot for Obama, Ohio Gov. John Kasich is one of a few Republican governors to take advantage of the law’s Medicaid expansion to reach more low-income Americans.

“The governor didn’t do it because he just loves me so much,” Obama said. “If every Republican governor did what Kasich did here rather than play politics about it, you’d have another 5.4 million Americans who could get access to health care next year regardless of what happens with the website.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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