Canceled Policies Heat Up Health Fight

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Concerns Extend Beyond Troubled Insurance Website.

Problems surrounding the launch of the federal health-care law broadened Tuesday, as concerns that thousands of Americans are getting insurance-cancellation notices bubbled over at a hearing on Capitol Hill.

Highlighting a growing number of such notices, Republicans trained their fire on President Barack Obama, who said in 2009, “If you like your health-care plan, you will be able to keep your health-care plan. Period.” The president repeated that message numerous times before the law passed in 2010, and some Democrats said he had left them ill-prepared to respond to the latest charge, which follows the botched launch of the website intended to help Americans sign up for new policies.

The issue, while long known in health-policy circles, pushed its way to the national stage as more people around the country received cancellation notices. Some found they would have to pay more for coverage because newly available plans cover maternity care and don’t cap payouts—benefits required under the new law that customers previously could have chosen to go without.

Also, the law says plans can no longer charge sicker people more, meaning those in good health may lose a pricing edge, while others may see their costs fall significantly.

The cancellation notices carried an additional sting because of the technology problems at the portal, which officials had been counting on to showcase new insurance options and federal subsidies.

The White House played down the significance of the cancellation issue by saying it affected only a sliver of Americans who already buy insurance on their own.

Earlier this month, Tom Luebchow, a 54-year-old small-business owner in Winston-Salem, N.C., received a letter from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of North Carolina telling him his individual health plan would be canceled and that the cost of coverage for his family would more than triple—to over $1,000 a month. He said that after the initial shock wore off, it was replaced by anger because he had to pay for benefits like pediatric eye exams that he would never use.

As many as 10 million consumers are expected to have their health plans terminated by their insurers effective Jan. 1 or after, insurance experts said, meaning that millions of cancellation letters are likely to go out during the fall enrollment season.

On Tuesday, the House Ways and Means Committee heard testimony from one of Ms. Sebelius’s subordinates, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, who apologized for the website’s troubles and said they were being gradually fixed.

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