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Notices Canceling Health Insurance Leave Many On Edge

Oct 30, 2013

President Obama repeated this line or a variation of it many times during the campaign to pass his landmark health care bill: "If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan, period."

But while that might be true for people who get health insurance through their employer, it's not true for many people who buy their policies in the individual market — about 5 percent of the nation's policyholders.

At a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the president had not broken his promise. But that claim has been called into question by the hundreds of thousands of cancellation notices sent to policyholders across the country.

Blue Shield of California recently sent out those notices to more than half of its individual customers, telling them they need to buy more comprehensive policies because of the Affordable Care Act.

"As a result of introducing those new health plans, we could no longer offer the plan that they were currently in," says Steve Shivinsky, a Blue Shield California spokesman. He says those plans will end Dec. 31.

Jamie Walters, who grows corn on 3,000 acres west of Chicago, got a similar letter from his insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois. His old policy, Walters says, covered him and his wife and three young children for $585 a month with a $5,200 family deductible.

He says he got a rude surprise when he went shopping for a new plan on HealthCare.gov: The cheapest plan will cost him $902 a month.

"That plan, that costs us over 50 percent more a month, changes our deductible from $5,200 to $12,700," Walters says.

Part of the reason it's so expensive is that Walters makes too much money to qualify for any government subsidies. For a family of four, the subsidies cut off at $96,000 per year in modified adjusted gross income.

"I think you'll find that many small business owners, young professional families, families with dual incomes, etc., will not qualify for subsidies, because the income limits really are very much smack in the middle of the middle class," Walters says.

As for his thoughts on Obama's claim that those who liked their plan could keep it, Walter says, "I don't know how you can call it anything but untruthful."

Sebelius defended the president at Wednesday's hearing. Most consumers in the individual market, she said, will end up better off.

"A lot of people will have a much better plan at a similar or lower cost," Sebelius said. "Fifty percent of these 11 to 12 million people qualify for a subsidy, qualify for financial help purchasing insurance, for the first time ever."

Johanna Humbert of Galien, Mich., is one of those people. She recently got a letter from her insurance carrier, Aetna, saying her coverage was being cancelled. So she went shopping on HealthCare.gov.

"And once I got through the few glitches that everyone is experiencing, I was pleased to see that I could get a subsidy to help pay for my insurance," Humbert says.

Humbert, who makes between $30,000 and $40,000 a year as a freelance fundraiser for non-profits, found a policy similar to her old one. The deductible is about the same, but the monthly premium of approximately $275 a month is about half what she paid before. And, she says, "I am very pleased with it."

As for that claim — that nobody with insurance would have to give it up — Humbert says she thinks the president was not fully informed.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Kathleen Sebelius took the hot seat today on Capitol Hill. The Health and Human Services secretary apologized for the government's troubled health insurance website. But she remained a fierce defender of the Affordable Care Act and of President Obama.

She insisted President Obama had not broken his promise that anyone who had a health plan they liked would be able to keep it under the new law. That claim has been called into question by the hundreds of thousands of cancelation notices now being sent to policyholders across the country.

NPR's John Ydstie begins our coverage.

JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: President Obama repeated this line - or a variation of it - many times during the campaign to pass his landmark health care bill.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan, period.

(APPLAUSE)

YDSTIE: But while that might be true for the majority of consumers who get health insurance through their employer, it's not true for many people who buy their policies in the individual market. That market insures about 12 million people, or about five percent of the nation's policy holders.

Blue Shield of California recently sent out cancelation notices to more than half its customers in that market, telling them that it is introducing new, more comprehensive policies because of the requirements of the new health care law. Steve Shivinsky is a Blue Shield California spokesman.

STEVE SHIVINSKY: And as a result of introducing those new health plans, we could no longer offer the plan that they were currently in, and that plan would end on December 31st.

YDSTIE: Corn farmer Jamie Walter got a similar letter from his insurer 10 days ago.

JAMIE WALTER: I received a letter from BlueCross Blue Shield of Illinois informing me that as of January 1, I believe it was, my current insurance coverage would be canceled.

YDSTIE: Walter grows corn on 3,000 acres west of Chicago. He says his old policy covered him and his wife and three young children. It costs $585 a month with a $5,200 family deductible. When he went shopping for a new plan at healthcare.gov, he got a rude surprise. The cheapest plan cost him $902 a month.

WALTER: That plan that costs us over 50 percent more a month changes our deductible from 5,200 to 12,700.

YDSTIE: Part of the reason it's so expensive is that Walter makes too much money to qualify for any government subsidies.

WALTER: I think you'll find that many small business owners, young professional families, families with dual incomes, et cetera will not qualify for subsidies, because the income limits really are very much smack in the middle of the middle class.

YDSTIE: If a family of four makes more than 96,000 a year, it's not eligible for government subsidies. Walter says he thinks President Obama's claim that anyone who likes their current health care plan can keep it is untrue.

WALTER: I don't know how you can call it anything but untruthful.

YDSTIE: Testifying on Capitol Hill today, HHS Secretary Sebelius defended the president and said most consumers in the individual market will be better off.

A lot of people will have a much better plan at a similar or lower cost. Fifty percent of these 11 to 12 million people qualify for a subsidy, qualify for some financial help purchasing insurance for the first time ever.

Johanna Humbert from Galien, Michigan is one of those people. She recently got a letter from her insurance carrier, Aetna, saying her coverage was being canceled, so she went shopping on healthcare.gov.

JOHANNA HUMBERT: I went online, and once I got through the few glitches that everyone is experiencing, I was pleased to see that I could get a subsidy to help pay for my insurance.

YDSTIE: Humbert, who makes between 30 and $40,000 a year as a freelance fundraiser for nonprofits, found a policy similar to her old one. The deductible is about the same. But the monthly premium is around $275 a month or about half what she paid before.

HUMBERT: I am very pleased with it.

YDSTIE: As for the president's claim that nobody with insurance would have to give it up, Humbert says she doesn't think the president was fully informed.

John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.