Nov 14, 2013 1:51 PM by NBC News
Saying "we did fumble the ball," President Barack Obama announced a fix to the vexing problem of canceled health insurance policies Thursday. He told insurers they don't have to cancel plans next year just because of the Affordable Care Act.
Insurers can continue the plans for 2014 on two conditions - they have to tell people what their plans don't cover, and they have to let people know they do have the option of going onto the health insurance exchanges to buy new plans with federal government subsidies and perhaps go onto Medicaid.
"Insurers can extend current plans that otherwise would have been cancelled in 2014," Obama said.
He also apologized for the messy rollout of the health insurance exchanges. "We should have done a better job of getting this right on Day One," Obama told an hour-long White House news conference. "We did fumble the ball on it and one of the things I am going to do is make sure we get it fixed."
Critics of the health reform law, known widely as Obamacare, have made hay with reports that tens of thousands of people have been getting cancellation notices from their insurance companies, despite Obama's repeated promises that people who like their insurance plans can keep them. NBC News first reported that the White House knew the cancellations were coming.
"This is something I deeply regret because it's scary getting a cancellation notice," Obama said at a news conference. "It's on me. Those who got cancellation notices do deserve better and they received an apology from me. But they deserve more than words."
One main goal of Obamacare was to get rid of what the White House says are the worst abuses of the insurance industry -- caps on coverage, policies that charged women three to five times what a similar man was charged, policies that didn't pay for cancer screening.
Some of the policies that have been canceled were very inexpensive, part of the reason for the outrage. But insurance and health industry experts say it's because they were so bare-bones, they wouldn't have paid for much if they were ever needed. The White House keeps stressing that the new rules level the playing field a little bit, and offer most people much more in terms of coverage.
"A lot of people think, 'I've got pretty good health insurance', until they get sick," Obama said. He urged anyone with a cancelled insurance policy to look at what it available on the online exchanges. "If you received one of those letters, I encourage you to look at the marketplace," Obama said.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has also pointed out that the policies being canceled are mostly individual policies, not the big group policies offered by employers that cover most Americans. Those policies often change every year anyway, HHS says.
According to America's Health Insurance Plans, the industry's group, 19 million Americans have individual plans.