Between President Barack Obama’s announcement of a “fix” to his federal health care law on Thursday, and Friday’s passage of new health care legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives, Idaho leaders are left wondering what the rapid-pace changes in Washington, D.C. , mean for health insurance customers in the Gem State.
“It’s just a total mess,” said Tom Shores, an insurance agent and member of the board of directors for Idaho’s government-run health insurance exchange. Shores spoke with IdahoReporter.com Friday following President Obama’s announcement Thursday that he would allow insurance companies to continue for an additional year selling health insurance plans that will be out of compliance with federal insurance standards beginning January 1, 2014. “All this is doing is adding fuel to the fire,” Shores added, “he (President Obama) has made things much worse.”
The president’s announcement on Thursday emerged amid talk in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate of a proposal to amend the federal Obamacare law to legislatively delay the prohibition of certain health insurance plans for another year. The president’s remarks, alone, do not substantively change the federal health care law, but rather, the president was merely noting that his administration would not enforce the law immediately.
“This is just the latest sign that the president’s health care law is a failure,” Congressman Raul Labrador told IdahoReporter.com Friday morning. “We warned the American people that Obamacare would be a failure and that’s exactly what it’s become.”
Shores said that the president’s offer to not enforce the federal law doesn’t mean that insurance companies have the capacity at this point to stop complying with it. “It took insurance companies about five months and millions of dollars to prepare policies that comply with it, they don’t have the time or resources to change it back suddenly.”
Shores’ remarks echo what U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, was saying earlier in the week. During an interview with Fox News, Risch was asked about the fact that former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Dick Cheney had both stated that President Obama should uphold his promise to Americans that they could keep their existing health insurance plans. “Former President Clinton is correct in saying that President Obama should keep his promise,” Risch responded, “but Vice President Cheney is also correct in saying that it is probably impossible to do that.”
Like Shores, Risch noted that insurance companies probably cannot easily reverse course with their product offerings. “Those policies aren’t available any more. They’ve been discarded, they aren’t offered any more, and there’s no way to put this genie back in the bottle. It’s kind of like telling someone, ‘I’m sorry I burned your house down.’ I think the president should keep his promise, but I think it’s impossible for him to keep his promise.”
Despite the president’s nonenforcement comment on Thursday, Democrats in the U.S. House joined forces with House Republicans Friday afternoon to pass legislation that amends the federal Obamacare law. Should the bill pass in the U.S. Senate and signed into law by President Obama, it would allow the sale of existing insurance plans to continue for one additional year.
Tom Donovan, deputy director of the Idaho Department of Insurance (the state agency that regulates the insurance industry in Idaho), told IdahoReporter.com that he and his colleagues are still gathering information about the events in Washington, D.C. “We’re still trying to learn more about the president’s remarks and their possible ramifications here in Idaho,” he stated. “We’re hoping to be able to issue a statement next week, but at this point we’re still trying to digest all the information and figure out what it all means.”
Shores said that while insurance regulators in the various states are split on whether they’ll try to follow President Obama’s lead on enforcing the new federal insurance requirements, most he believes will not try to comply. “I think most of the states are going to take a look at this and determine that we just can’t pull it off,” he stated. “This shows that this president is in over his head, in so many ways.”