In response to the “if you like your health-care plan you can keep it” debacle, the Obama administration announced in November that people with insurance plans that don’t meet the minimum coverage requirements under the Affordable Care Act could keep them for another year. In the latest of many tweaks to the law, on Wednesday the administration said consumers can renew their “bare bones” plans for another two years, meaning some could keep that coverage into 2017. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the goal is to “smooth the transition” to the new system, but the fact that this prevents a new wave of cancellation notices from going out just before the midterms has not gone unnoticed.
Administration officials denied that the extension is about politics, but didn’t help their case by announcing that the changes were crafted “in close consultation” with several Democrats facing tough elections in the fall, including Senators Mary Landrieu, Jeanne Shaheen, and Mark Udall.
The announcement happened to come on the same day that the House voted for the 50th time to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and naturally, Republicans were quick to denounce the latest change to the law. “President Obama is once again trying to hide the effects of Obamacare,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. “It is not fair to pick and choose which parts of an unpopular law should be enforced.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell added that the announcement represents “a desperate move to protect vulnerable Democrats in national elections later this year.
It’s unlikely that many people will actually hold onto to the subpar policies through 2017. White House officials said there are about 500,000 people who still have the plans, citing RAND Corporation estimates. The two-year extension is optional for states and insurers. Politico reports that only about half of the states have allowed the noncompliant plans to continue, and some insurers want to cancel the policies to move more people into the health-insurance exchanges.
The hope is that people will trickle into new plans over the next two years. “By the time it gets to 2016, I don’t think anybody expects there’s going to be a wave of cancellation notices,” an administration official told Businessweek. And even if there is, by then it’ll be some other president’s problem.