WASHINGTON – Adding pressure to fix the administration's problem-plagued health care program, former President Bill Clinton says President Barack Obama should find a way to let people keep their health coverage, even if it means changing the law.
Clinton says Obama should "honor the commitment that the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they got."
The former president, a Democrat who has helped Obama promote the 3-year-old health law, becomes the latest in Obama's party to urge the president to live up to a promise he made repeatedly, declaring that the if Americans liked their health care coverage, they would be able to keep it under the new law.
Instead, millions of Americans have started receiving insurance cancellation letters. That, coupled with the troubled launch of the health care law's enrollment website, has prompted Republican critics and frustrated Democrats to seek corrections in the law.
House Republicans have drafted legislation to give consumers the opportunity to keep their coverage. Ten Senate Democrats are pushing for an unspecified extension of the sign-up period and in a private White House meeting last week several pressed Obama to do so. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has proposed legislation that would require insurance companies to reinstate the canceled policies.
The White House says it is working on changes that would ease the impact of the cancellations for some people. But the fixes under consideration are administrative actions, not congressional changes to the law.
White House spokesman Jay Carney on Tuesday reiterated the White House argument that the cancellations apply to only about 5 percent of Americans who obtained health care insurance. He also argued that more than half of those people receiving termination notices would benefit from better insurance at lower prices either through expanded Medicaid or through new health care marketplaces.
For the remainder, Carney said, "The president has instructed his team to look at a range of options."
The issue facing the administration now is how to ease the impact on people who are losing their plans and don't qualify for subsidies to cover higher premiums. Carney said the White House opposes a House Republican bill, proposed by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., that would allow insurers to keep selling insurance that doesn't offer the type of benefits required by the new law.
"Any fix that would essentially open up for insurers the ability to sell new plans that do not meet standards would create more problems than it fixed," he said.
Jonathan Gruber, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist who advised the Obama administration on the health care law, said the White House has few if any administrative options available.
One solution, he said, would be to offer a "transitional tax credit" to those consumers who are losing their insurance and must pay more for new coverage that meets the law's standards.
"I don't know how you do that without Congress's permission, and they're not going to give it to you," he said.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second ranking Democratic leader in the Senate, on Tuesday said that while the law does face problems, he said some of the changes proposed by Republicans "are not friendly proposals. They're designed to derail this effort."
In an interview with CNN, Durbin cautioned that if consumers are permitted to keep policies that don't meet the law's minimum requirements "it's going to be difficult for the insurance industry to produce a product that really is going to serve our needs and that they can adequately tell us what it costs."
Asked whether Obama lied to the public when he promised people that they could keep their policies, Durbin said: "A couple more sentences added would clarify it."
In his interview with the website www.OZY.com , Clinton overall praised the health care legislation. "The big lesson is that we're better off with this law than without it."
Carney noted that Clinton's own efforts to pass health care legislation during his presidency were blocked.
"The goal here is to achieve what President Clinton and presidents both Democratic and Republican sought to achieve in the past," he said.