A week ago, President Obama announced a policy reversal that would allow insurance carriers to extend individual health policies that do not meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act.
But within a few hours of the President’s announcement, state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, a Democrat, said he would not implement the proposal in the state of Washington.
On Thursday, during a hearing of the state Senate Health Care Committee, Republican state legislators had a chance to grill Kreidler about his decision.
Committee chairwoman Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, noted that 290,000 people are in the state’s individual insurance market and most of them have received cancellation notices for their current policies.
She told Kreidler, “I just really want to reach out to the 290,000 people in this state that could have benefited by you at least taking longer than two hours to make that decision.”
Becker asked Kreidler if he contacted the carriers to see if they were interested in extending the canceled policies. “Or did you make the decision that at the end of 2013 their plan just could not continue?”
Kreidler responded that after “serious discussions” with insurance regulators around the country, he did not see how it would be possible to make the changes the President was proposing without major disruption to the state’s insurance market.
“It was clear to me there was only one course of action,” he said. “I can tell you none of the health insurers contacted me, asking me to do that extension.”
“But I look at that as your job,” Becker replied. “You could have reached out to them, but I’m hearing that you did not reach out to them.”
Kreidler conceded that he could have done so. But he stood by his decision. He said the majority of people in the individual market are going to see “vast improvement” in their coverage under the new policies available through the exchange, which are required to cover essential health benefits and cannot discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions.
“The point is, people are calling my home and they are saying, ‘I did not even get a choice,’ ” Becker said. “They’re mad, and so I just want you to be aware of that and hear that from me directly.”
But the committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, said she has been struck by “the lack of outrage” over the canceled plans..
Keiser said members of the Senate Democratic Caucus have received complaints from only 16 constituents. “It doesn’t sound like we’ve got an uprising on our hands of people who want to keep what they had,” she said.
Kreidler added later, “I certainly would have rethought it, Sen. Becker, if we didn’t have a functioning marketplace. But we do have a functioning marketplace, and so we’re a very different category than any other state.”