Sebelius: no plan yet to resolve insurance cancellations

The Obama administration’s top health official said Friday there is no explicit plan to help millions of Americans who are being forced by the Affordable Care Act to buy different — and often more expensive — insurance policies next year.

Many people who buy their own health coverage have received notices from insurers in recent weeks that their current policies do not meet new minimum standards created by Obamacare, in spite of the president’s promise that Americans who liked their insurance policies could keep them. Some will qualify for federal tax credits to buy new, more comprehensive plans on the Health Insurance Marketplace. But others who make too much money to qualify for tax credits will likely see premiums jump drastically.

There is an ongoing effort to identify these individuals and the solutions that may be available to them, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters while visiting an Atlanta health clinic Friday.

“We’re looking at a range of options, but there is not a specific proposal,” Sebelius said.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and nine other Republican senators this week called for the dismissal of Sebelius, who is in charge of the rollout of the Affordable Care Act and its troubled marketplace website, Dozens of House Republicans have also pushed for Sebelius’ firing.

The White House has repeatedly said it would not dismiss Sebelius, a popular two-term governor of Republican-heavy Kansas before taking her Cabinet post.

Sebelius on Friday visited with consumers and staff at the Southside Medical Center, a federally qualified health center in Atlanta. Health officials announced one day earlier $150 million in federal grants that will help health centers across the country serve an estimated 1.25 million additional patients.

Sebelius said Friday she believes she has the president’s support and is responsible for making sure the site gets fixed.

“The rollout has been very flawed, frustrating millions of Americans who want and need health insurance,” Sebelius said, urging Georgians who have been thwarted by the site to give it another shot. “Was October a bad month? You bet. But we are getting better.”

She also urged Georgia leaders to reconsider joining the 25 states that have expanded Medicaid. Gov. Nathan Deal has said repeatedly that Georgia can’t afford to expand the public health program for the poor.

Federal officials have not released enrollment data for any of the 34 state marketplaces, including Georgia’s, that it is running. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia opted to create and run their own sites.

Nearly 900,000 Georgians are expected to shop for plans and learn whether they qualify for tax credits through the marketplace.

Only a small — although growing — number have so far managed to enroll in plans. Many of the “navigators” hired to help people sign up for coverage have opted to use paper applications instead or tell people to try the website again once it’s running more smoothly.

Southside CEO Dr. David Williams said that the site’s glitches are disappearing and the center’s navigators are helping people enroll daily. People must buy coverage through the marketplace by Dec. 15 to have it take effect by Jan. 1.

For partners John West and Michael Lappin, the new plan they recently purchased through the marketplace will save them more than $5,000 in premiums each year. The couple, who run a mortgage business together, had been stuck with separate individual insurance plans for seven years because of pre-existing conditions.

Their new coverage through Humana has lower premiums and lower out-of-pocket costs and allows them to stay with their same doctors. Lappin said they ran into some website glitches at first but weren’t discouraged. Their patience paid off.

“It’s a big advantage for us,” he said.