Obama again extends canceled health insurance plans

WASHINGTON – Americans whose 2013 health insurance policies were supposed to be canceled this year because they don’t meet tough new standards under the Affordable Care Act can now renew those noncompliant policies for another two years if their home states allow it, the Obama administration announced Wednesday.

The administration’s second canceled-policy “fix,” following a one-year extension granted in November, was the most notable and controversial of several new executive branch tweaks made to the health law for next year.

Theoretically, the move allows about 500,000 individual and 1 million small group health policies to continue through October 2017.

The change does not apply to the state of Washington, however, the state’s insurance commissioner said Wednesday. Last fall, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler decided against extending noncompliant plans, and that decision applies as well to the two-year extension announced Wednesday.

The Obama administration’s decision to extend the policies was made in “close consultation” with a handful of congressional Democrats facing tough re-elections, including Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. Both called for consumer-friendly changes to the health law.

Congressional Republicans were counting on a wave of policy expirations later this year to fuel potent attacks on these and other Democrats who voted for the health law. But the new extension, which must be approved by state insurance departments, could now provide Democrats valuable political cover.

Obama officials said employers, consumers, insurers and other stakeholders were consulted about the extension. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the announcement a “desperate move to protect vulnerable Democrats in national elections later this year.”

“By announcing a new delay in requiring that policies meet minimum coverage standards, the administration avoids a new round of health policy cancellations set to hit shortly before the November elections,” McConnell said in a statement. “What makes this latest delay so troubling is the fact that it was prompted not by the heartbreaking stories of millions of Americans, but by the private pleadings of a handful of endangered Democrats.”

The administration was already under fire from conservative legal activists and Republican lawmakers for changing important Affordable Care Act rules and implementation timetables without approval from Congress. Senior White House officials said Wednesday’s adjustments would be the last significant changes in the health law’s rollout for 2015.

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