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Millions of policyholders were told they can't keep their current plans under terms of the Affordable Care Act.
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times
“To be told that basically I’m too stupid to understand what I’m buying, and the insurance plan I purchased is substandard, is offensive to me,” says Rob Lawson, who owns his own business
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times
Rob Lawson, who runs Credit Today, an online publication, from his home office, said he liked his insurance plan just fine: A high deductible of $10,000, with unlimited coverage after that.
Friday, November 1, 2013
In two words, Rob Lawson of Roanoke County can sum up the most recent controversy surrounding the Affordable Care Act: "That's me."
Last month, Lawson received a letter from his insurance company, informing him that his plan was being cancel ed to meet the requirements of the new health care law.
Such cancellations have been a hot topic on Capitol Hill this week, as some lawmakers have grilled Obama administration officials about what they say was a false bill of goods sold to the American public.
In pitching the heath care overhaul over the past three years, President Barack Obama has repeatedly assured people that if they like their current insurance plan, they can keep it.
To Lawson, those promises rang hollow when he received a letter dated Oct. 2 from his insurance carrier, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
"To meet the requirements of the new laws, your current plan can no longer be offered," the letter stated.
As many as 14 million individual policy holders have received similar letters, according to opponents of a law best known as Obamacare.
"That's not the way this was sold," Lawson said of his situation, which has him looking at a new plan that could more than double what he and his family of five pay for heath insurance, to at least $1,200 a month.
While the cancellations were not a total surprise - White House officials said they are part of an effort to improve plans that provide inferior coverage - they came at a bad time for the administration.
Just as people like Lawson were getting cancellation notices as part of year-end insurance adjustments, criticism was mounting over continuing technical problems with a government website used to sell subsidized insurance plans as part of the new law.
When Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human services, appeared before a congressional committee Wednesday to address the website problems, the sharp questions she faced soon shifted to the cancellations.
"This was a plan that was supposed to solve the problems in the country for the uninsured, but it's creating even more problems," said Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, who as a member of the House Energy and Commerce committee had a chance to question Sebelius.
To Griffith, the cancellations show that "you don't get to pick and choose anymore" when it comes to selecting health insurance. "Washington bureaucrats are picking and choosing what's in your plan now."
Lawson, who is self-employed, said he liked his plan of about 10 years with Anthem just fine: A high deductible of $10,000 for himself, his wife and three children, with unlimited coverage after that.
Most recently, Lawson had been paying $597 a month for the plan. After getting his notice of cancellation, Lawson said, he checked with an insurance broker and was told that the cheapest plan available on the government marketplace would cost him $1,200 a month plus fees and taxes. And the deductible would increase to $12,500.
Although Lawson was able to renew his plan early, securing one more year of his existing coverage for a minimal premium increase, he still worries about how much more insurance will cost him after that.
While acknowledging that not all families would be comfortable with his current $10,000 deductible, Lawson said it was the most affordable option for him.
"This type of plan fosters personal responsibility and provides total financial protection against a health catastrophe, which is what the definition of insurance is," he said.
In comments this week, Obama said that many of the people who are being forced to find new coverage had "cut-rate plans" from "bad-apple insurers" - a problem the health care law was designed to change. Better plans at cheaper prices are available through the government marketplace, the president said.
Lawson, the owner and publisher of Credit Today , an online publication, bristled at suggestions that his Anthem plan was not a good option for someone in his financial situation.
"To be told that basically I'm too stupid to understand what I'm buying, and the insurance plan I purchased is substandard, is offensive to me," he said.
It was not clear Wednesday how many plans offered by Anthem, the largest insurance carrier in Virginia, are being cancelled because of the new health care law.
Anthem spokesman Scott Golden referred questions to the company's trade association. An official with America's Health Insurance Plans did not have numbers on cancellations, either by Anthem or industry wide.
In general, the Affordable Care Act requires that all new policies provide more services and better financial protection against catastrophic illnesses. It was expected that some insurers would cancel policies because it's easier to come up with new plans than to make modifications.
Administration officials have said that people who have employer-based group coverage or government plans such as Medicare and Medicaid - the vast majority of Americans - will for the most part not face changes in their coverage.
About 5 percent of the insured have individual plans from the private market. In testimony to Congress this week, Marilyn Tavenner , director of the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid, said insurers, not the administration, are to blame for the cancellations of those policies.
Lawson begs to differ.
"They're blaming the insurance companies, but they're giving them a mandate to follow," he said. "Then they're saying, ‘It's not our fault; it's yours.' It's Orwellian."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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